Recently, I watched the documentary Blood in the Mobile about the origins of some of the minerals which make the metals in our cell phones. In the film, director Frank Poulsen travels to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to learn more about the origin of the minerals. He learns that minerals mined in the eastern provinces of the DRC are used to fund the militias fighting the civil war. Reports in 2008 from a UN group of experts, cited on the film’s website, found that all of the main militias fighting in eastern DRC are financed through trading minerals, which are processed into metals that are used to manufacture cell phones.
About 45,000 die each month in the DRC, mostly from the effects of displacement in the country’s eastern provinces, according to Raise Hope for Congo. Armed groups “routinely commit acts of rape and sexual violence against Congolese women and girls.”
Nokia’s long ties to the DRC’s suffering
Poulsen interviewed someone from Nokia, a Fortune 50 cell phone company. Every third cell phone in the world is a Nokia. “Nokia are market leaders in social responsibility. If they’re using blood minerals the whole business is likely to do it,” Poulsen said. A century ago, Nokia was a rubber boot factory that obtained rubber from King Leopold’s slave colony, now the DRC. Clearly, the company has a history with exploitation in western Africa.
The person Poulsen interviewed from Nokia said the company took action in 2001 when it first became aware that a raw material called coltan, coming from the DRC, can be turned into tantalum, which is used in cell phones and other electronic products. The person from Nokia said the company went to its suppliers and asked if they could trace where the tantalum was coming from, and they discovered that there is no mechanism in place to determine the origin of the minerals. He also said Nokia is developing mechanisms to trace where the minerals come from.
“Nokia has known about blood minerals for 10 years,” Poulsen said. “They launch a new phone every third month, and even sell them in the Congo. And then they tell me they don’t know where the minerals come from. They say it’s impossible to trace the minerals in my phone. But it’s possible to trace all kinds of things.”
U.S. legislation leading the way
Section 1502 of the Dodd Frank Act, signed into law July 21, 2010, adds extra reporting requirements on Form 10-K, Form 20-F or Form 40-F to the U.S. Securities and Exchange (SEC) on the sources of “conflict minerals.”
A California State Senate Bill 861, authored by Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett would ban the California Department of General Services from obtaining contracts with companies using Congo’s conflict minerals. The bill passed out of an Assembly committee a few weeks ago.
“This legislation will help cut off the cash flow, and support, for lawless militias engaged in heinous human rights violations,” Corbett said.
If you want to learn more about conflict minerals, the film can be viewed on LinkTV’s website in its entirety.