On February 13 2014, Apple became one of the first major corporations to publish a list of where their minerals are sourced from to build electronic devices. The list reveals 59 smelters are compliant with international ethical guidelines – but the status of 104 additional smelters is unknown. The lack of verification of these smelters raises concerns around their potential for supplying conflict minerals – minerals obtained through forced labour or mines controlled by armed groups.
While corporations are under the wire to increase transparency regarding mineral suppliers – due to section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act – the international community has turned its attention to the countries where the minerals are sourced.
One of the biggest suppliers of conflict minerals is the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Democratic Republic of Congo is considered an extremely resource rich country, with an estimated $24 trillion worth of untapped deposits of raw mineral ores. Many of these minerals – tantalum, tin, tungsten, gold – are core components used in electronics such as cell phones and laptops.
Armed groups frequently take control of the mines to benefit from their mineral wealth. Over half of all mines in eastern Congo are controlled by armed groups and profits are often used to financially support armed conflict. As a result, the mining sector in Congo is notorious for human rights abuses. The conditions in these mines have been widely criticized as sites of grave human rights violations, including sexual violence, child and slave labour and mass displacement. To compound the issue, drug and alcohol use run rampant in the mines and mining towns – fuelling rape and sexual violence against women and girls.
Despite the dangerous conditions women are often present as workers in the mines or sell goods. Women represent 20%-50% of the mining workforce in the Congo and are disproportionately affected by the violence often encountered in the mines. Because of the high threat of armed violence, cases of sexual slavery, gender-based violence and child prostitution often go unchallenged. Women also experience increased health risks – namely respiratory diseases – due to the fibres that are released into the air from extracting tantalum
The exploitative conditions of mines in the Congo have created zones of impunity for crimes against women and children. But there are signs of hope suggesting that the Congo and the global community are trying to tackle human rights abuses in the conflict minerals trade. Congolese women remain at the forefront of efforts to mobilize against mining companies and draw attention to the serious injustices taking place in mines.
Apple in conflict mineral ‘name and shame’ crackdown, BBC News, February 13 2014
At least 26 killed in attack on Congo’s mining hub, Mining.com, January 8 2014