Is Your Mobile Phone Funding Rape?September 22, 2010
Could you imagine living in a region deemed the rape capital of the world by the United Nations? How about being kidnapped and repeatedly raped by multiple armed men who will never be brought to justice? This is a sad reality for women and girls living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where sexual violence is used as a weapon of war. But did you know that your spending habits could be contributing to this suffering? Most likely, the computer or smartphone you are using to read this blog has helped support the atrocities being committed half a world away.
How is it possible that our electronic devices cause such calamity in a region most of us will never see? The decade-long Congolese war, which has killed 5.4 million people and displaced hundreds of thousands, is fueled by the illicit and unregulated trade of conflict minerals such as gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten. Armed groups earn hundreds of millions of dollars per year by selling and distributing these minerals to companies that produce electronics. Then, consumers like us purchase the products, never realizing where the materials came from, and the vicious cycle continues.
These minerals end up in the jewelry that we wear and the electronics that we use every day from companies like Apple, Dell, Panasonic, and Nokia. Cell phones, laptops, and MP3 players are just the short list of products that contain conflict minerals. According to the Enough Project, “Tin is used in the solder that joins electronic components together. Tantalum’s main use is in capacitors, a vital component in electronics. Tungsten has many uses, including light-bulb filaments and the heavy, compact mass that makes cell phones vibrate.”
On July 15, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which President Obama signed on July 21 and which includes provisions on conflict minerals. It states that companies registered in the United States must report on their progress in tracing minerals and ensure that those materials are not financing military units and exacerbating conflict in eastern Congo. After almost two years of deliberation, this new legislation is a great step forward. However, there is more to be done.
Join the conflict-free movement and refuse to purchase products with undisclosed contents. If you work at or attend a college, start a campaign to move the campus toward conflict-free electronics. We as consumers hold the purchasing power and ultimately can hit large corporations where it hurts: their pockets. Activism begets action. We can break the cycle and be a voice for our silenced sisters in the Congo and help stop the 8,000 rapes per year.
So, is your mobile phone funding rape? If so, what are you going to do about it?
This post is by AAUW fellow Maureen Evans Arthurs.