Blood Coltan: Have a Coltan-free Holiday

The conclusion of 2014 marks a decade and a half of explosion in gadgets. Many firsts, like iPods, consumer GPS devices and the Wii, helped to spark the revolution that has forever transformed our world. Now each holiday season finds us discovering and fiddling with new laptops, smart phones, game consoles, and more, that aim to make our lives more convenient and entertaining. However, technological advancement has come with a dark-side. A key element in creating the electronic devices we love is a mineral called coltan. Short for Columbite-tantalite, coltan is a black tar-like mineral, that when refined forms a heat resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. This property makes coltan vital for manufacturing tantalum capacitors found in a vast array of electronic devices, particularly mobile phones, laptops, tablets and many other modern gadgets and electronics.

A vast majority (80%) of the world's coltan is found in the mineral-rich country in the heart of Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). One would have hopes that the technological revolution and the world's subsequent reliance on coltan would help spark a natural development process within the DRC that would catapult the nation's economy and people out of poverty. In reality, the DRC has remained volatile and unstable. In the east of the country, where coltan is mined, worrying levels of death, rape and displacement continues. In fact, during the span of the last fifteen years, up to 6 million people have died, and many are capitalizing on the anarchy in order to plunder the DRC's natural resources. Additionally, as different armed groups fight to gain control of the mines, it's become evident that there are financial links between the never-ending war and trading of DRC's coltan and other natural resources. The exploitation chain runs deep and involves rebel groups and forces from neighboring countries (Rwanda and Uganda), transnational corporations who purchase, distribute and process the conflict-mined coltan, and the manufactures who use the refined capacitors in a wide range of electronic devices. Ultimately however, we are all responsible as consumers. The clear dilemma for us consumers however, is; How do we know exactly what we are buying? Or in this case, what conflicts may our hard-earned money be unintentionally funding? In efforts to pressure the big brands and producers of electronics to use fair trade and implement transparent mechanisms that provide evidence that they are not directly or indirectly exploiting or fueling conflict zones, consider having a coltan-free holiday season this year! (Note: Blood coltan is not exclusive to DRC and central Africa. Coltan reserves also exist in the Amazon jungle and the region bordering Venezuela, Columbia and Brazil has also become a conflict zone.) Here are just a few popular items that use coltan:Mobile phones Laptops Tablets GPS devices Digital cameras Video cameras Video game consoles (Xbox, Playstation, Nintendo) Drones and other military technologies and the list goes on! Links and resources: