Conflict Minerals: The Ugly Truth About the Materials in Your Cellphone We've come a long way from landlines; not only are cellphones ubiquitous, but smartphones have basically put hand-held computers in our pockets. Sadly, though, our must-have mobile devices include a built-in, terrible component: human suffering.

Welcome to the ugly world of "conflict minerals."

Tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold are used in the manufacture of major electronic products, including mobile phones. Mining these minerals is common practice in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but sadly, Congolese miners (including children) regularly face far worse fates than hazardous working conditions and low pay.

The Violent Business of Mining

Many of the Congolese mines are controlled by military forces, which get the lion's share of the proceeds from this lucrative but dangerous business. Many Congolese workers are forced to extract the highly sought minerals from the mines through violence and rape. Furthermore, there are few other options for Congolese citizens to make a living in the first place.

Individuals and organizations are increasingly raising awareness of the fact that conflict minerals are an ugly ingredient in many of the most popular electronic devices, including cellphones.

Actress and activist Robin Wright recently recorded what she saw in Eastern Congo for CNN. She traveled there with the Enough Project, which seeks to end genocide and crimes against humanity. There's also a documentary, Blood in the Mobile, which documents the visual proof of the human toll on Congolese miners.

Are You Using Dirty Devices?

The Enough Project's Raise Hope for Congo campaign site has a handy heat map of major electronics providers' conflict footprints, through which consumers can make conflict-free decisions (or know which companies to contact to demand progress in creating conflict-free supply chains).

Motorola (MMI) and Nokia (NOK) have a "green" ranking, indicating that they are "on the right track," having taken steps to trace, audit, and certify their supply chains.

Faith-based socially responsible investment fund Praxis Mutual Funds has also started raising awareness of the issue through a campaign it launched this week. It set up a form that enables consumers to contact their cellphone providers such as AT&T (T), Sprint Nextel (S), T-Mobile (DT), and Verizon (VZ) to demand conflict-free cellphone options.

Consumer awareness -- voting with one's dollars -- can do a heck of a lot to push for change at how major companies do business. As more consumers call for conflict-free phones and other devices, these corporations will get the message.

Motley Fool analyst Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

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Alyce you are a Motley fool if you beleive that the Companies should be pressured to make a change!

December 08 2011 at 3:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The unofrtunate violence these workers endure is a horrifice hardship. If there were no metals to mine what would these people do to earn a living? We can not police the world but we can continue to use goods that require the metals they mine. The real issue w these workers is with their Government and Military who fail to treat them like worthwhile human beings.

December 08 2011 at 3:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well lets see. Tin, not mined in that area, tantalum is mostly mined in China and the US, tungsten is not mined in the Congo region... Well thats it GOLD. Hmmmm, that is mined for many reasons, and I would be willing to bet that the gold isn't finding its way into your cell phone. So what spin are they trying to get???

December 08 2011 at 3:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

how about the needless human suffering right here caused by the hate filled regime of barack hussien obama?

December 08 2011 at 1:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The bottom line is, is that we can't afford to be the worlds keepers and take care of everybody. We need to start taking care of our own. We also need to clean up our government with the corrupt one's.

December 08 2011 at 11:12 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

stuarts100 and koz should be working in those conditions with the comment they made. I can tell you guys have a heart about as big as a peanut.

December 08 2011 at 11:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

mayabell1107 if you want to know more that will make you sick, our government gives them millions of dollars a day. Also the wars that we are in have to do with us loving them so much.

December 08 2011 at 11:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Garrett Burke

It's sad what these people have to go through, but KEEP IN MIND... the vast majority of the resource called "Coltan" is located in Africa. 44.7% of Coltan is mined in Africa.

If the vast majority of this resource was in the United States or other first world country we wouldn't be reading this story right now. Same goes with diamonds, 49% of diamonds are from Africa.

These countries just so happen to have people in power who are willing to abuse their citizens for profit. I'm not saying it's right (it's not). I am saying the reason for the problem is the people in power in this region.

Unless civilized nations take over these nations their problems will likely never be resolved completely as the citizens there are outgunned...

I am sure if that were to happen there would be tremendous public outcry from the same people who write these kinds of articles.

There is no way to know for sure, but if these people were not working in the mines they may not be paid and may starve. Not buying 'blood tainted' phones could make this problem worse for the people.

December 08 2011 at 10:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Boy you can't win. Here these people have jobs to go to everyday, while here in the states many have no jobs.

December 08 2011 at 8:04 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I just could not believe the story but its probably sad but true. Those countries exploiting their people to dig up the materials used in electronic items. The U.S. was wrong in starting the twin plan concept, I saw this coming, and now a lot of the jobs here have gone to China. Yes they have a lot of people and they get paid peanuts or not even that. This country should of kept our people employed by keeping the jobs in this country. I wonder if it is to late to do just that, bring back the jobs so this country can be great again. The U.S. is a great country to live in where we have all our freedoms, after 911 things changed but not that much. We have an abundance of everything, we can come and go as we please. No wonder people from all over the world want to live here, I dont blame them for trying.

December 08 2011 at 6:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply