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<nettime> Consumer electronics industry and coltan mining
Juha Huuskonen on Sat, 24 Jul 2010 18:28:08 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Consumer electronics industry and coltan mining


Last week the US Senate passed a new bill that requires companies to  
disclose whether they are sourcing coltan or other minerals from the  
DRC or adjoining countries. Companies have to provide details about  
the measures they have taken to avoid sourcing these minerals from DRC  
armed groups, which are guilty of massacres and other atrocities. This  
means that companies like Apple, Dell, HP, Intel and Nokia can no  
longer wash their hands of this issue.

The move by US lawmakers can perhaps be partly explained by commercial  
motives. The fact that China has become the number one supplier of  
many important metals has recently raised concern in US and Europe.  
Increased transparency in mineral industry is likely to increase the  
mineral prices, and this might turn mining and other related  
industries into profitable business again in Europe and US.

Although the new law can be seen as a positive first step towards more  
fair consumer electronics, it can also have negative side effects. The  
new law might result in a complete boycott of minerals from DRC, which  
might make the local situation even worse. Also auditing the supply  
chains is a complex task and probably prone to corruption.

According to a report by Finnwatch, the raw materials from Congolese  
mines are traded by Belgian trading houses to ports in Kenya and  
Tansania. From there the materials are transported to Thailand,  
Malesia, India and China where the worlds biggest foundries are  
located. In the case of Nokia, after the foundry has extracted the  
metal, there are still 4 or 5 more middlemen before the metal ends up  
in a ready Nokia product. According to an article in Taloussanomat,  
Nokia requires their material suppliers not to use minerals from  
conflict areas, but the new law will require Nokia to do more  
extensive auditing.

Links:

U.S. passes landmark reforms on resource transparency:
http://www.globalwitness.org/media_library_detail.php/1028/en/u.s._passes_landmark_reforms_on_resource_transparency

Challenging China in Rare Earth Mining:
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/22/business/energy-environment/22rare.html?_r=1&pagewanted=1

Finnwatch report:
http://www.finnwatch.org/pdf/DRCwebversio.pdf

Taloussanomat article (in Finnish):
http://www.taloussanomat.fi/yritykset/2010/07/22/nokiaa-epaillaan-verimetallien-kaytosta/201010103/12


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