Conflict minerals (like gold and tantalum) are present in most of our commonly used electronics. These minerals are generally attained through intense social exploitation (i.e. child labor) in disastrous mines that cause extreme environmental degradation for their surrounding areas. Countries like the Congo that are rich in natural resources but are politically unstable are ravaged by war and violence because of this mineral trade that is fueled by western consumer demand for electronics.
Of the 21 largest electronics manufacturers in the world, you can buy your cell phones, computers, cameras, and other gadgets from those companies that are making the most effort to go conflict-free (and avoid those that are not). According to Raising Hope for Congo, here are the rankings:
Click image for larger view.
Organizations like Raise Hope for Congo are working to raise awareness about these issues and are urging electronics companies to take responsibility for their mining practices.
Fairphone is a prime example of how companies can take responsability for their production practices. Fairphone started in 2010 as a project of Waag Society, Action Aid and Schrijf-Schrijf to raise awareness about conflict minerals in electronics and the wars that they fuel and fund in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2013, they established their independent social enterprise to design and produce their first smartphone and take the next crucial steps in uncovering the story behind the sourcing, production, distribution and recycling of electronics.
To learn more about them, please download their fact sheet.
Next time you consider purchasing a new phone or laptop, consider first if you really need a new one. If you determine that what you have isn't sufficient, consider buying a refurbished one instead. You can also refer to the Enough Project's company rankings, a rating system that evaluates corporations on their efforts to be "Conflict Free."
Here are some ways to be sustainable with electronic products:
- Purchase sustainable options, such as Fairphone, etc.
- Use it until it's beyond repair instead of buying the newest version right away
- Recycle it properly through certified e-waste systems
- Donate old phones that do work but which no longer serve your needs
Read more about the ways that conflict minerals affect people living in the Congo in this National Geographic piece.