The newest iPhones were recently released, and the early adopters have already jumped all over them. Amidst the frenzy, we can easily forget that iPhones and the other electronic devices our society is so dependent on aren’t just spit out of a giant oven that automatically cooks up a new model every 14 or 15 months. Blood, sweat, and tears go into making those devices—a lot more blood than most people realize.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a large country in the heart of Africa, the minerals needed for our devices are the source of unimaginable violence. The country is one of the wealthiest in the world in terms of natural resources: it sits on large deposits of gold and ore that make tin, tantalum, and tungsten–essential elements of many electronic devices. However, above the Earth’s surface, DRC is one of the poorest and most dangerous nations.
How is this possible? Through a series of violent civil wars and uprisings spanning the last century and linked to European colonial presence in Africa, the mines were seized by brutal rebel groups quick to convert the precious minerals into funds for their armies. This has come at the expense of the dignity, economic opportunity, and lives of millions of Congolese. They live in a horrific state of poverty and fear while rebel leaders and corrupt government officials fatten their own bellies by selling off the minerals. Eventually, many of these minerals make their way into the products we have in our own homes.
In the past fifteen years alone, over five million Congolese have been killed as a result of this conflict, leading some to call the situation the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.
On a more encouraging note, there have been several movements and laws directed at solving this problem in the past decade. Thanks to the Dodd-Frank business reform act, corporations are now required to list where the minerals in their products come from, inspiring many to try and eliminate blood minerals from their products. This can be difficult to do as there are plenty of corrupt officials willing to lie about the true source of the minerals, but many companies, such as Intel and Apple, are making marked efforts to clean up their supply chain. Other companies (I’m looking at you, Nintendo!), aren’t doing so great of a job.
There’s no easy solution to the problem, but it’s important to realize amidst our continuously-innovating society that the electronic devices that make most of our lives so much easier have destroyed the lives of many.
Check out Raise Hope for Congo to see a list of the companies making the best efforts to get blood minerals out of their products.