The war economy has set the standard for working conditions in mines throughout the DRC. Children as young as six years old still make up an estimated 40 percent of the mining workforce. It’s no secret by now that the supply chain feeding our smartphones and laptops is not pretty. Thanks to a flurry of media coverage of Foxconn and other Chinese manufacturers, we know about the dismal conditions at the factories that churn out iPhones. Less is known about what happens to our phones and computers and those clunky old monitors when we throw them away. Most of the minerals that go into circuit boards aren’t recycled... a significant portion of the bewildering mix of elements that go into any single smartphone—from exotic-sounding dysprosium and gadolinium to the more mundane-sounding tin—is mined from a select few sites around the world. Of these minerals, a handful—most notably the “three Ts” (tin, tantalum, and tungsten) and gold—have in recent years achieved notoriety as “conflict minerals.” That’s because many of these minerals originate in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the nation at the center of Africa that, for the past decade and a half, has been home to the deadliest conflict since the Second World War. Since 1996 a series of wars there are estimated to have killed upward of 5 million Congolese people
January 6, 2014. It’s the opening night of the Consumer Electronics Show, and it seems as if the whole of Silicon Valley has descended on the Las Vegas Convention Center and Venetian hotel to peddle its wares. On the show floor, a company called Sensoria introduces a “smart bra” designed to accommodate fitness tracking technology, while rivals brandish other “wearables.” A startup called Parrot introduces its Jumping Sumo toy drone. Tractive unveils a dog remote. Tech gurus and A-list celebs celebrate the rise of the Internet of Things, with its data-crunching onesies and bottle warmers. As the night wears on, T-Mobile CEO John Legere, wearing a bright pink company T-shirt, crashes a swanky AT&T party, only to be kicked out fifteen minutes later. “I just wanted to hear Macklemore,” he tells a reporter.
At a "conflict-free" copper mine in Katanga (Fairphone/Flickr)