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Letter to electronics companies on Congo's conflict minerals

February 24, 2009

A letter sent to the 21 largest consumer electronics companies expresses concern about the possible presence of conflict minerals from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in electronic products. The signers represent a growing coalition of 32 organizations and community leaders urging electronics companies to adopt and support a multi-sector, independently verifiable system to trace the supply chains of key minerals in electronic products and assure consumers that the products they purchase are 'conflict free.'

The conflict in eastern Congo–the deadliest in the world since World War II—is being fueled by a multi-million dollar trade in minerals that end up in a wide variety of electronic products. Over five million people have died as a result of the war, the United Nations estimates that 200,000 women have been raped over the past decade, and the violence has escalated rapidly with new attacks over the past four months. Several armed groups, including the National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP, the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda, or FDLR, and renegade units of the Congolese army have benefited by controlling mining areas or illegally taxing the minerals.

The minerals are then trafficked through neighboring countries such as Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi, and are then bought by multinational trading and smelting companies. The conflict has led to forced labor in mines in eastern Congo, including by children, and extensive environmental damage. The armed groups and criminal networks primarily responsible for eastern Congo's violence generate over $100 million each year by trading in four main minerals: tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold.

The lucrative illegal mineral trade allows the armed groups to be largely self-financing as they continue horrific abuses against civilians. Indeed, some of the worst abuses by these armed groups have occurred as a result of competition for control of mining areas. The link between these armed groups and the illicit mineral trade has been extensively documented, most recently by a UN Group of Experts report released in December 2008. The Group of Experts report provides ample evidence that corporations based in Europe and Asia – including smelters, marketing companies, and processors that sell to major component manufacturers and electronics companies – are knowingly purchasing ore directly from or originating in rebel-held areas. For example, the report specifically implicated the Thailand Smelting and Refining Company in the purchase of minerals linked to the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda, or FDLR, a militia led by individuals responsible for the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Other multinational companies may also be purchasing minerals that benefit the other main armed groups, the CNDP and autonomous units of the Congolese Army.

The UN concluded by recommending due diligence in the international minerals supply chain as an effective strategy to cut off support to Congolese rebels. The consumer electronics industry as a whole remains the largest end-user of the conflict tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold that come out of Congo's war zone and therefore holds a unique position of influence. Over 50 percent of the world's tin is used as solder, the overwhelming majority of which goes into electronic products, 60 percent of global tantalum is used in electronic products in capacitors, and tungsten and gold are growing sources of revenue for armed groups in Congo that also have uses in electronics components.

Electronics companies can play a significant part in combating the trade in conflict minerals in eastern Congo by publicly disclosing its supply chains for components containing tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold, and by working with our organizations and others in the industry to develop a robust, international mechanism to verify the origin of these minerals. While studies such as the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition's June 2008 report "Social and Environmental Responsibility in Metals Supply to the Electronic Industry," and statements of declaration by Apple's suppliers that they are not buying from illegal mines in Congo are a beginning, they do not serve as proof that our consumer electronics are free of conflict minerals. Building on these previous efforts, an independently verifiable tracing mechanism and supply chain disclosure would represent important actions to contribute to ending the violence, labor abuses, and environmental degradation in eastern Congo.

Click here to read a sample of the complete letter
Click here for a list of the largest consumer electronics companies



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