If you are reading this on a tabloid or a smartphone, then you are likely holding bits of so-called conflict minerals, mostly mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where National Geographic travelled recently to investigate the current state of the country’s mineral trade.
In the magazine’s October 125th anniversary issue, Jeffrey Gettleman and photographer Marcus Bleasdale document the horrifying conditions under which the country’s miners still work to produce nearly half the world’s supply of tantalum, as well as an important amount of tin ore, tungsten, gold and dozens of other minerals used in today’s most popular electronics.
Described by Bleasdale as “an ant-like army expending millions of calories and gallons of sweat to feed a vast and distant global industry,” the majority of these people work for militia groups that still control most of the country’s mines.
Unlike legitimate countries that export tantalum, the Congo is a nation dominated by warlords who slaughter innocent people to take land that is rich in highly demanded minerals including cobalt, gold, diamonds, copper and tin.
For much of the past decade, cheap supplies of tantalum derived from these mines have flowed into a long and complex supply chain, involving infamous groups such as the Hutu militia associated with the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
In an effort to curb the imports of tainted minerals from the beleaguered African country, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last year passed a set of strict rules requiring manufacturers to report the origin of their tantalum, tin, gold and tungsten. The rules also force companies to disclose payments made to overseas governments to develop natural gas.
While the ruling goes into effect in 2014, more than a third of U.S. firms are absolutely unprepared to adopt it, revealed a poll conducted in April during an IHS NYE:IHS webinar, “The clock’s ticking: How to comply with the new conflict minerals regulations.”
What’s more, America’s biggest manufacturing trade groups—the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable—began an ongoing court battle against the SEC, aimed to stop the rules from taking effect.
In late July, Judge Robert L. Wilkins decided to uphold the SEC’s rule, to which the U.S. companies replied this month by filing a brief that includes pretty much the same arguments defeated earlier in the year.
The upcoming verdict, expected this fall, will determine whether U.S. firms can use conflict minerals without telling consumers and investors what is the nature of the electronic components used in the next best-seller tabloid or smartphone.
Take a look at “The Price of Precious” photo gallery from National Geographic.
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Reprinted by permission of Mining.com