Blood diamonds, electronics, it’s all becoming the same

Ever since the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Blood Diamond brought the injustices of blood diamond mining to popular attention, Canadians have been asking a lot of questions about where the stones on their rings are coming from.

And rightfully so; blood or conflict diamonds are often harvested by slaves in horrendous working conditions, and the sale of these gems to unscrupulous dealers helps finance bloody wars in Africa, particularly in the Congo.

But maybe we ought to be asking where our electronics are coming from; as the CBC reports, coltan, a mineral used in electronics production, is rapidly replacing diamonds as the least ethically mined substance in the world:

Men, women and children are said to be forced at gunpoint to mine coltan that is then shipped out of the country at huge profits.

“Coltan is extracted under terrible working conditions in mines in eastern Congo,” DanChurchAid, a Danish humanitarian nongovernmental organization, reported in 2006. “The United Nations reports child labour in Africa has significantly increased in coltan mines. In some regions of the Congo, about 30 per cent of schoolchildren are now forced to work in the mines.”

On Friday, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative and the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition announced the launch of a Conflict-Free Smelter (CFS) program to combat the problem.

“The CFS program aims to identify smelters that can demonstrate through an independent third-party assessment that the raw materials they procured did not originate from sources that contribute to conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” stated the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, a Washington-based industry group whose members include Apple, Celestica, IBM and Cisco.

The CBC article mentions that NDP MP Paul Dewar has tabled a bill in Parliament to create a due diligence mechanism that companies must observe to ensure that human rights are not being violated in the extraction of minerals used by Canadian companies. Bill C-571 passed first reading on September 30th.

It’s good to see that some companies are being part of the solution. Kudos to companies in the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, and here’s hoping more companies worldwide join their efforts.