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Coltan: The Bloody Reality Behind Modern Technology

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the heart of Africa, holds 80% of the world's reserves of an essential resource for contemporary technology: coltan. However, behind the apparent sophistication of our electronic devices, lies a dark truth that deserves to be exposed.


Via JAMES RAJOTTE/ El País

Coltan, an amalgam of columbite and tantalite, is a mineral ubiquitous in our daily lives. From smartphones and tablets to global positioning systems (GPS), weapons, aerospace and even surgeries, all of these devices and applications depend on coltan. Surprisingly, 80% of the mines for this mineral are located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, making this country a global epicenter of a crucial but problematic industry.


Behind the seemingly harmless utility of coltan, hides a devastating panorama of armed conflicts and human rights violations. According to UNICEF, approximately 40,000 minors work in mineral mines in the Congo, being victims of unimaginable exploitation and abuse.


The Human Cost of Coltan: Two Lives for Every Kilo

Do you know that every kilo of coltan extracted in Congo costs two people the lives? This shocking fact illustrates the cruel reality surrounding the extraction of this coveted mineral. Armed groups in the region benefit from their illegal trade, thus financing their criminal activities that include indiscriminate massacres, rape of women and girls, and the forced recruitment of children as soldiers.


The conflict in Congo is exacerbated by the presence of some 40 guerrilla groups, many of which receive funding from the Rwandan government. This situation creates a cycle of violence and destabilization in the region, where the civilian population suffers the devastating consequences of an endless conflict.


This situation creates a cycle of violence and destabilization in the region, where the civilian population suffers the devastating consequences of an endless conflict.

Inhumane Working Conditions: Slavery in the Mines

Conditions in coltan mines border on modern slavery. Miners are subjected to exhausting work days of more than 14 hours, in exchange for ridiculous salaries. They are victims of physical and psychological abuse by the armed groups that control the mines, while women and children are forced to work in extremely dangerous conditions.


Not a single day goes by without a work accident occurring in these mines. The figure is alarming: one miner dies per day, and during the rainy season, this figure multiplies due to the even more dangerous conditions. Some mines are known, sadly, as mass graves, due to the large number of miners who have lost their lives underground in search of this precious mineral.


The limited industrialization of many mines means that work is manual, with water and trays. That is why child labor is used, because to reach complex areas, a small body arrives before a large one ( AS ).


Coltan in the year 2000 cost $65 per kg; It cost $500 per kg that same year, exceeding the price of diamonds.


The figure is alarming: one miner dies per day, and during the rainy season, this figure multiplies due to the even more dangerous conditions.

Illegal Coltan Trafficking: A Complex Web of Corruption and Deception

This mineral, necessary to make smartphones, comes from mines that finance terror in the Congo: only 3% of these mines are official ( The Independent ). Coltan has given rise to the proliferation of a black market for the mineral, where job security is practically non-existent and accidents are common. Some mines, sadly known as mass graves, bear witness to the loss of human life in search of this precious resource.


Despite attempts to regulate the coltan trade, the illegal market continues to thrive. The Congolese government and the United Nations prohibit the purchase of coltan from mines controlled by rebel groups, but verifying the legitimacy of mining operations is an arduous and complex task.


Illegally extracted coltan is laundered through various stratagems, such as obtaining certificates of authenticity or transporting it to neighboring countries such as Rwanda, where its origin is laundered and its sale to large multinationals is facilitated.


What Responsibility Does the West Have?

The passage of the Dodd-Frank law in the United States in 2010 attempted to regulate the trade in conflict minerals, including coltan. However, according to a report by Amnesty International, most American companies were unaware of the origin of the minerals they used, leaving the door open to inadvertent use of blood minerals.


Although the European Union has adopted similar measures to curb the trade in conflict minerals, loopholes in regulation still allow the importation of questionable minerals. This highlights the shared responsibility of Western countries in perpetuating the cycle of violence and exploitation in the Congo.



It is time for us to become aware of the true face of our electronic devices and demand a more ethical and responsible technology industry. Coltan should not be stained with blood, and it is our duty as consumers and citizens of the world to ensure that this is the case. The international community has a critical role in addressing this issue and ensuring that workers' human rights are respected at all stages of the coltan supply chain. Together, we can work towards a future where technology is not stained by the blood of innocents in the Congo.


Resources

Crisis in Congo: Uncovering the Truth , by Congo Justice .

First Lady of Sierra Leone's Fierce Speech on Mineral Exploitation, New African Leaders and More

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