How and What We Buy Can Change the World: Electronics as the New Blood Diamond

November 28th, 2009

NYT_congoIn my effort to understand and talk about human trafficking, I’ve done a little research. When an article like this pops up I feel I need to share it, especially because this one shows how and what we buy can change the world.

Leonardo DiCaprio thrust this story into mainstream entertainment in the film “Blood Diamond.” Journalists like Marcus Bleasedale have followed this story for years (see “Rape of a Nation” at and human rights groups have railed at the public’s consciousness for even longer.

This is the story of minerals extracted by slaves for the benefit of armed groups. Consumers unknowingly buy the minerals in products like the laptop I’m typing on, the cell phone in your pocket, the ring on your spouse’s finger. The companies that make these items may also be buying the minerals from suppliers without knowing exactly how they were extracted. To be fair, and without getting into environmental issues, many minerals are extracted “fairly” but somewhere along the line is someone who knowingly introduces conflict minerals into the supply chain. This gold, diamond, coltan, or other mineral was extracted by people laboring by hand, under violence, for only enough to keep them alive so they can labor. They are unable to leave, to be free.

These stories, from around the globe, are monumental, intimidating, and can leave us feeling hopeless; what can we really do?

Enough_ProjFor starters, we can learn. And then we can demand the companies we buy from follow their supply chain all the way to the source and ensure that none of the products they sell support conflict. Do you buy fair trade coffee? Do you eat free-range or organic? These options wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for a market that demands them–meaning us.

An excerpt from this NY Times article:

“Already the Enough Project, an antigenocide group based in Washington, and Eve Ensler, an American playwright who has been supporting Congolese women’s projects for years through the organization V-Day, among others, have been urging Congress to pass legislation that would bar American companies from buying Congo’s “conflict minerals,” which include gold, tin and coltan, a metallic ore used in many cellphones and laptop computers. Several bills have been proposed.”

Read more about conflict minerals and what you can do:

Be heard: email the companies

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