Saturday, July 06, 2013

How many people have you killed today?

Did you know that the phone in your pocket or your camera that makes such lovely memories is destroying a nation? Do you know that unknowingly, you have killed someone- There is blood in your hands (and in mine too). Tantalum and niobium are two elements that are in your phones (and other electronics). They are dense, heat-resistant, non corrosive and hold charges well- good qualities vital for the compact phones. Both these elements are extracted from a mineral called coltan and guess which country had the biggest reserve of coltan- Congo. In a decade from 1991 to 2001 the demand for mobile phones shot up, and so did the demand for coltan from cell phone makers. Unlike gold or diamonds, there was no major company here, people of Congo, could just get a shovel and dig for coltan. Congolese people had no idea what the mineral was used for, just that its cost increased every year and western nations were happily paying for it. In just a few hours a farmer could earn his entire years income by digging coltan. So farming was abandoned and to feed themselves Congolese people hunted gorillas, virtually wiping them out. Money pouring in increased blood killing and prostitution. The money funded arms to militia, fuelling genocide and a bloody civil war. Stories have circulated about proud victors humiliating their victims by draping their bodies with entrails and dancing in celebration. To their credit, by 2001 cell phone makers realised that they were funding anarchy and began to buy tantalum and niobium from Australia even though it costs more.
In 2006, the EU outlawed, lead solder in consumer goods and electronics and most manufacturers have replaced it with tin. Guess who happens to have a huge supply of tin- Congo.
More than five million people have died in Congo since the 1990's ; 2 million have been displaced and rendered homeless. Indian peace keepers (working on behalf of UN) regularly get shot. Unfortunately many electronic giants still source coltan, tin and gold from Congo. The money flowing there is fuelling an endless genocide. One of the biggest culprits is Nintendo, which sources all of its coltan from Congo. My favourite camera maker Canon is no saint either, so is Nikon or HTC. It's hurtful knowing that a part of my money has gone to kill someone. To know how much each company is depending on Congo still, check this link Awareness among consumers hurts companies, forcing them to make changes. Be a part and spread the word.

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