I was watching a BBC documentary the other day, "The World's Most Dangerous Place for Women" where a young girl goes back to find her roots in Congo. Among the many unbelievable heart-breaking stories she hears and amazing people she encounters, she tells about the mining of metals in Congo, which helps fund the arms trade. Metals mined include wolframite, which is a source of tungsten, used to make mobile phones vibrate.
I had to find out more.
Voice Of America says: "What we know is that some of the metals that are being produced in eastern Congo are vital to the mobile phone market," said Daniel Balint-Kurti. "For example, there is a metal wolframite, which is the ore for tungsten, and tungsten has specific use in mobile phones in that it is used for the vibrating function of mobile phones."
I was appalled to hear that mobile phone manufacturers may be still using tungsten from Congo, so I thought it would be best to contact them directly and ask them.
I emailed the following mobile phone manufacturers:
Sony-Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola, Apple, HTC, RIM/Blackberry, Palm, LG and Samsung.
Only three of them replied - Apple, Palm and Nokia. All three of them replied within 24 hours of me emaling them.
Here is what they had to say:
Apple: Check out p23 on the 2010 Progress report at
"Monitoring the Source of Extractives"
Apple requires our suppliers of tantalum capacitors to certify they use only
materials that have been produced through a socially and environmentally
responsible process. In 2009, we extended our certification requirement to
tungsten used in iPhone vibration motors.
The supply chain for tantalum consists of many types of businesses—including
mines, brokers, ore processors and refiners, component manufacturers, and
board assembly manufacturers—before reaching final assembly manufacturers.
The combination of a lengthy supply chain and a refining process makes it
difficult to track and trace tantalum from the mine to finished products—a
challenge that Apple and others are tackling in a variety of ways.
Apple is an active participant in the Extractives Workgroup, a joint effort
of the EICC and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), focused on the
extraction of minerals used by the electronics industry and their movement
through its supply chains. The group has commissioned the nonprofit
organization RESOLVE to map the supply chain for tantalum and tin, and
to develop standards that apply throughout the supply chain.
Palm: Palm publishes details of its environmental stewardship at the following web address
However, when I emailed them back to ask where EXACTLY their statement was on sourcing wolframite, all I heard were crickets.
Nokia: Nokia supplied the most relevant and personal reply. They also provided a full response in their email, instead of just giving me a link to their environmental progress report. I got a feeling they do actually care.
Tungsten is used within components that are used in our phones. Congo, or rather the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), contributes only 2-4% to the world's total tungsten production. In DRC there are mining activities that are legitimate but there are also conflict areas where several sources have reported not only poor practices at the mine operations but also potential links between militant groups. We have banned the use of all metals (tin, tungsten, tantalum) from conflict areas and take every possible effort to ensure that our requirements are met throughout the supply chain (as you probably know, we do not source or even buy metals directly - typically there are 4-8 layers of suppliers between consumer electronics companies and any mining activity).
We take continuous action to ensure that metals from the conflict areas do not enter our supply chain. First of all we require our suppliers to confirm that our ban of conflict metals is respected, and our requirements fulfilled. We are also working directly with suppliers of components that contain these metals to map out the supply chain back to source. Furthermore, we are actively working on an industry initiative to develop and smelter audit process. The process will first be rolled out to smelters to tantalum, and then for other metals.
The challenge at the moment for every company is that currently there aren't means to trace any metals to the mine with a 100% guarantee of origin. Once a mineral is smelted any characteristics of the ore, or its origin, is gone. In the process the sources for metals used multiply quickly. That's why it is impossible to give the exact origin of e.g. tungsten used in a particular product or its component, and why industry wide cooperation, like the initiatives we are participating in, are so important to ensure ethical sourcing.
For description of the supply chain and our approach, please visit our website at http://www.nokia.com/A41459939#anchor
Motorola replied after the blog post went live with the following statement:
We must have missed your original email to Motorola, but I'm happy to provide information on what we are doing re: conflict minerals.
Motorola is concerned about poor social and environmental practices at some mine operations around the world. Mining activities that fuel conflict are unacceptable.
We require high labor and environmental standards in our own operations, and make concerted efforts to drive improvements. We expect our suppliers to do the same, as reflected in our supplier code of conduct.
The mining and processing of raw materials raises serious concerns. We don\'t procure these materials directly; however, we are working to effect positive change. For example, when Motorola first became aware of the illegal mining of coltan in early 2001, we took swift steps to cease the use of materials containing tantalum derived from illegally mined Congolese coltan.
Tantalum is used in the production of materials, such as capacitors, for a wide range of electronic products. Motorola requires all of our suppliers of tantalum-containing capacitors to verify, in writing, that capacitors sold to Motorola do not contain tantalum derived from illegally mined Congolese coltan.
Motorola supports the development of U.S. legislation that helps companies determine whether or not the sources of the materials they use are associated with conflict. We are very concerned that currently no credible independent systems exist to allow companies to verify the source of the metals in their products.
Motorola is collaborating with others in the industry to tackle the challenges of traceability/tracking and other issues through the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) extractives workgroup, which we co-lead. We believe this effort will drive greater transparency in the mining industry.
In 2009, the extractives workgroup launched a project to improve visibility in the minerals supply chain, with particular focus on identifying sources of specific minerals and understanding how the minerals move through their lifecycles — from mine to electronics manufacturing. Motorola is actively involved in this project. Additionally, this workgroup has engaged companies from all levels of the tantalum mining and processing industry to drive toward a solution that promotes the responsible sourcing of tantalum.
In October 2009, Motorola, Dell, HP, Intel and Philips co-hosted a multi-industry forum on metals extraction issues. More than 40 attendees brainstormed potential industry actions to address these issues. Follow-up meetings between different industries and stakeholders are taking place as a result.
Motorola will continue to champion more responsible metal sourcing by engaging our suppliers and by participating in collaborative efforts with other stakeholders including mining companies, non-government organizations, labor organizations involved in mining, other industrial sectors that purchase and use metals, the governments and multi-government organizations with jurisdiction over these issues and the end users.
Sony-Ericsson, HTC, LG and Samsung never replied to my questions. I wonder why? Did they not think this was important enough? Or do they not have any policies in place to ensure that their mobile phone components are not sourced from the conflict zones? Who knows. Maybe you will have more luck than me:
More information about the mining activities in Congo:
VOA: Mobile Phone Industry Accused of Financing Congo Conflict: http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/africa/Mobile-Phone-Industry-Accused-of-Financing-Congo-Conflict--84401567.html
BBC: Human cost of mining in DR Congo: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8234583.stm
Make it right: Sign the petition on Change.org and ask the mobile phone manufacturers to make sure that they are not helping fund the arms trade: