Is Your Mobile Phone Funding Rape?

September 22, 2010
Photo source:

Photo source:

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.

By:   |   September 22, 2010


  1. Ryan Grassby says:

    I find that spreading awareness is rarely coupled with concrete, realistic solution propositions. First of all, how do we know what products have undisclosed contents? Are the only conflict-free products those that do not contain any of these minerals? Regardless, people on a mass scale are obviously not going to abandon Apple and other major electronic manufacturers on account of the ‘six degrees from separation’ notion that they are funding rape. Activists often believe that change comes from the people and while history has definitely shown examples of this, they are few and far between. The fact is that “the people’ are too big a group to unite on one specific issue let alone the thousands of other issues that require attention. I think it makes a lot more sense to effect change through legislation regarding the ethical responsibility of corporations. It should be unacceptable and illegal that electronics company are turning a blind eye to the circumstances under which they buy their minerals. But I understand that sitting back and waiting for government to do what is necessary while 8000 women per year are being raped is not an option for the passionate activists that I am grateful to have in the public sphere. I just feel that spreading awareness is often the end, rather than a means to an end, and without realistic solution propositions it is pointless, especially when you’re asking an electronics addicted generation to stop buying apple. I would love to hear ideas in response to this.

  2. Maureen Evans Arthurs says:

    Very insightful post, and on some points, I agree with you. But I disagree the spreading awareness is the end, it’s actually just the beginning.

    I think you underestimate the passion everyday people possess and their ability to put pressure on elected officials, which can result in legislation change. And if it isn’t legislation that initiates the change, it only takes one company. One electronic company to come clean about their minerals and the strategy they are using to make sure their products are not funding rampant militia atrocities. The rest will soon follow suit. Steps towards progress requires a multifaceted solution and takes not only strategic planning, but activism. Spreading the word is only the beginning. And really, it only takes one person to spark a movement.

    To answer your questions:
    ‘How do we know what products have undisclosed contents?’ Most of them do. Take your laptop and ask the manufacturer for a list of components, minerals and where they were purchased. Try, because I have, to find a ‘mineral trail’ so to speak of where the contents of your electronics came from. All roads end in China, Thailand or India. Seeing as how the ‘conflict minerals’ at hand are not harvested in either of those countries, we know they are being imported from regions like the Congo. Enough isn’t asking for individuals to stop buying apple, but put pressure on them to have another option or disclose their contents. Currently, you can’t go entirely conflict free because almost all electronics contain conflict minerals!

    In regards to your second question, remember blood diamonds? Different issue, similar process. It started with awareness, then hundreds turns into thousands, and thousands turns into millions of consumers that took action. They wanted an OPTION other than purchasing minerals that funded rape, genocide and war. And they got it. Thus, the Kimberly Process was developed. Was this a fix all solution? Absolutely not, smuggling of diamonds still exists and so does bloodshed over them. However the rate at which it happens is a lot less.

    At the end of the day, we can throw our hands up and say ‘there’s too much injustice to keep fighting the good fight’ and quit or we can keep the activism going. I choose the latter.

    Last week, I was on capitol hill urging house representatives to sign onto a letter written by Rep.Wu of Oregon to Secretary Clinton. The letter detailed specific actions and plans that will bring stability and peace to the Congo.
    1) Comprehensive security sector reform for Congolese army
    2) Disarm the FDLR
    3) Certification Process on Conflict Minerals
    4) Special envoy to the great lakes region

    All of these are realistic solutions that will end the violence and end the rapes. While it is up to our elected officials to make the policy changes, an individual can do what they can on their own to help the affected region. And that’s true, grassroots activism.

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