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Helping the Congo by Reducing Conflict Mineral Demand
June 27, 2010 1:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm A Mac and I've got a dirty little secret. Consumers are funding warlords in the Congo who rape and pillage, through their demand for high tech items. The Enough Project and Raise Hope For Congo are trying to change this. Conflict minerals 101.
posted by Xurando (85 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you for this I had no idea. Modern life can be so hard to live ethically.
posted by glenn333 at 1:40 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for bringing this to my attention; I am selling my Mac and buying a Dell. I can infer from its omission in this well-crafted FPP that Dell does not fund warlords.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:45 PM on June 27, 2010 [16 favorites]


I'm pretty sure we've talked about this before.
posted by delmoi at 1:45 PM on June 27, 2010


I had my laptop custom-made with extra unobtanium.
posted by XMLicious at 1:47 PM on June 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


Get rid of your cell phone, laptop, car, refrigerator, radio, microwave oven, MP3 player...anything with a chip in it. Let us know how that works out for you.
posted by fixedgear at 1:48 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


The problem isn't chips, it's capacitors.
posted by delmoi at 1:54 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was really hoping the video in the old thread still worked and I wanted to be impressed with CNet TV for showing it to me. It didn't happen. There's a new Blackberry out, though.
posted by rhizome at 1:55 PM on June 27, 2010


posted by Xurando Consumers are funding warlords in the Congo who rape and pillage, through their demand for high tech items.

Well, I warned the warlords you were on to us. I'm a consumer, and I've been covertly supporting Congo warlords since I was 12. Yep, you got me.
posted by mattdidthat at 1:56 PM on June 27, 2010


See also here. Also see the Wikipedia article on coltan, and note 1) the low % of tantalum that actually comes from the Congo, and 2) all the products that use it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:58 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Get rid of your cell phone, laptop, car, refrigerator, radio, microwave oven, MP3 player...anything with a chip capacitor in it. Let us know how that works out for you.

Thanks, delmoi.
posted by fixedgear at 1:58 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Texas in Africa, a poli sci professor who blogs about development, gets into some conflicting analysis that rings pretty true:
[T]here's no data showing that the mineral trade is the primary cause of violence in the eastern Congo. It's just not there. There are anecdotal accounts and reports on the mineral supply chains and reports on the horrific conditions in the mines. [... A]s of yet, as far as I've been able to tell, there's nothing that shows anything that:

1. that violence happens more frequently or with greater intensity near the mines than it does in non-mining areas of the region,
2. that violence happens more frequently or with greater intensity along the primary mineral supply routes,
3. that armed groups engaged in the mineral trade proportionally commit more acts of violence than those not engaged in the mineral trade,
4. or that those groups that control more mines or make more money from mining engage in proportionally higher levels of violence than those who control fewer mines and make less money.
[...]
This doesn't mean that minerals don't matter. But the militarized mineral trade is a symptom of the disease of state failure, not the root cause of violence.
She also offers some thoughts about reforming the mineral trade and other potential policies, and why cleaning up the trade is harder than we think.

African Arguments notes some problems with the ENOUGH Project and the simplification of the conflict. Another aid blog, Mo'dernity, Mo'problems, also points out some problems with cleaning up the coltan trade.

The strongest hypothesis about the violence in the DRC comes from TiA: "the war in Congo is not primarily a resource war, but is rather a complex conflict that at this point is driven primarily by longstanding conflicts over land tenure rights and citizenship issues. While access to the minerals is one problem, it is but one among many, and it is certainly not the engine driving violence there."
posted by quadrilaterals at 2:04 PM on June 27, 2010 [14 favorites]


Before we rehash this again can we agree that:
1. (For many of us) Living in the places we do in the manner in which we do means that yes, we've all contributed to this virtually every day.
2. This doesn't mean that we have to denigrate every attempt to improve anything as a call to shun technology and return to nomadic hunter gathering.

The amount of quasi-religious purism that always gets brought up with these subjects is astounding. It is as if the argument is "Well, one time you looked at a diamond ring and thought it was pretty, and that was a Conflict Diamond! (probably). You now have absolutely no ground to stand on criticizing ongoing rape and murder, because you thought that ring was pretty."

Yeah, I live in the first world, yeah, I'm writing this on a computer, and yeah, I'm sure we can come up with another footprint method to describe how many third world lives I've ruined given my consumer habits. I would still like to know how I can make things better. If people have suggestions of causes I can contribute to that have rational mission statements, I'd like them not to be shouted down. If some politician somewhere says that trade should be something that improves the lives of both people trading, I'd like to know how where they are running for office.

You know, we live in a universe of entropy and scarcity and occasional unavoidable evil. Occasionally though, evil is avoidable or can be mitigated and it is worth trying to improve the situation, it is worth winning small battles. If the only answers you will tolerate are utter nihilism or a Divine Parousia that solves all problems completely then you are looking for an excuse to maintain the current status quo and not the real solutions that can actually solve problems.

I can't actually return to hunter gathererism, it is actually not on the table, it is actually not a conscious choice I made. Let's consider what is.
posted by SomeOneElse at 2:04 PM on June 27, 2010 [84 favorites]


Interesting, I didn't know that - it's pretty unsettling. I wish the Enough Project website had better solutions, though.

I can't give up using computers for work or school, but I thought maybe I could buy better ones or something. Here's what they say I can do to help:

- Urge Your School to Go Conflict-Free
- Spread the word
and
- "Commit to Purchase Conflict-Free Cell Phones, Laptops and Other Electronics." I clicked on this last one hoping to see a list of good manufactures, but it's really just urging you to tell companies to make their products conflict-free.

It seems a bit premature of them to make this viral video before coming up with some more concrete actions people who are concerned about this can take. Without actual actions it seems like facebook activism.

I'll definitely keep the issue in mind, and try to use my electronics to their fullest extend (I just guessed that these would help), but I left the site thinking "Oh... well, not really sure what I can do that's productive here. I guess nothing, really."
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:06 PM on June 27, 2010


Related: 77% of iPhone 4 buyers are upgrading from the model they bought last year. See also The Story of Stuff a 20-minute documentary you can watch online for free, about where all our stuff comes from, and what that means for the planet.

Related in the opposite direction, Last Year's Model a project/website by Anil Dash, which champions the cause of hanging onto your existing gadgets instead of buying new ones.
posted by ErikaB at 2:12 PM on June 27, 2010 [7 favorites]


Solon and Thanks, you point out a really big problem with the Enough Project - consumer advocacy doesn't, and can't, solve wars. Their attempt to frame it as such leaves people disappointed and, in the long run, turned off or placated - well, I shared it on Facebook, so that's all I can do. The end. When really, the US and the UN and IMF and WB, et al, need a true revision of the macro policies (with MONUC involved, strengthened, redirected) that watch as the conflict continues.

From here:
Enough is guilty of vastly understating the role of history, ethnicity, local and regional politics, and other factors in causing and sustaining war in Congo, or more accurately, war in the Kivus, since most of Congo is now in a state of quasi-peace. Prendergast should know better, and likely he does know better, but he has created a campaign that vastly oversimplifies the conflict in the Congo and ignores the fact that most gold produced in Congo is from areas at peace—not at war—which leads to the final problem with the 60 Minutes story.
My purchasing of a consumer good, or refusal to purchase a consumer good, won't change the conflict. What will change the conflict is far more complex, and not particularly conducive to viral video sharing.
posted by quadrilaterals at 2:16 PM on June 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


That video is interesting, but it has sort of the same problem as Edward Abbey's book, The Monkey Wrench Gang:

To get the idea through, they have to use the very electronic consumer items, that they're rallying against.

I don't have a *solution* for that, but it always hits a weird chord with me.

See this activist organization trying to end the Conflict in Congo, it's a Conflict Organization of Activists!




At least Hayduke burned down billboards.


Probably a great way to alleviate at least some of this is through recycling. I don't have a clue what Colton is, but Tin, Gold, etc are all highly recyclable. They appropriated the Mac/PC thing, but Apple has at least, setup up a fancy recycling program and has looked very hard at the materials they use. It's a big step in the right direction.

Another way would be to reuse old electronics - I think you can still throw a distro of Linux on something +5 years old and have it run adequately.
posted by alex_skazat at 2:16 PM on June 27, 2010


arthur outted this to me years ago. try telling it to a 20-something, though. they just don't care.
posted by msconduct at 2:25 PM on June 27, 2010


While it may be difficult to discern violence directly surrounding mines, it is very well understood by basically everyone that conflict can be used as a tool to keep mineral prices low. This is basically _the_ reason that the Iran-Iraq war drug on for eight years and had as massive a death toll as it did: the US switched back and forth supplying money and weapons to whichever side was at the disadvantage for eight years, in order to draw out the conflict and keep oil cheap. Was there other stuff going on there? Hell yes, but constraints (like running out of money or weapons or people of the right age to fight) tend to force a resolution to conflict.

This has also been observed in the Congo diamond trade; the multinationals take turns funding different warlords, getting the cheapest diamonds from the most desperate. The trade strengthens the desperate, and throws another log on the fire. Is there more going on there than just the economics? A proliferation of viewpoints and atrocity? Certainly. But the diamonds just as certainly play a role in keeping the conflict running.

It sounds like the Enough folks just had a legislative victory, though, which does count for something, even if it's not the kind of grassroots change we might dream about.

If you want to do your part, you could buy less electronics. I'm told that linux extends the average life of a computer by four years...
posted by kaibutsu at 2:27 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


[few comments removed CHILL OUT AND DO SOME YOGA this nonsense needs to stop or take it to metatalk ffs.]
posted by jessamyn at 2:28 PM on June 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


Mobile phones are directly responsible for the biggest war in African history, destroying World Heritage site rainforests and driving rare gorillas to extinction.

Yes, my iPhone is directly responsible, and it should be indicted for crimes against humanity. Is there an app for that?
posted by mattdidthat at 2:36 PM on June 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Haters gonna hate.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:36 PM on June 27, 2010


This is a myth. Tantalum is in literally EVERY electronic device in your home, and Apple is by no means a worse culprit than anyone else. Apple's tantalum almost certainly comes wholly from Chinese mines. Please do not spread this misinformation.
posted by MaxK at 2:38 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, yeah gotcha, everything a first worlder does, eats or uses is reponsible for the destruction of the world. But especially Mac users, those bastards are particularly guilty.

*heads out to buy iSomething*
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:39 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Modern life can be so hard to live ethically.

Actually, if you buy into certain standards, it's impossible, so you might as well just do whatever you want.
posted by jonmc at 2:42 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Get rid of your cell phone, laptop, car, refrigerator, radio, microwave oven, MP3 player...anything with a chip capacitor in it. Let us know how that works out for you.
Also, only certain types of (expensive) capacitors contain tantalum. Most electronics, even something like a desktop PC doesn't need them. But cellphones are usually made with them because of the space constraint.
posted by delmoi at 2:44 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks again, delmoi.
posted by fixedgear at 2:47 PM on June 27, 2010


Related in the opposite direction, Last Year's Model a project/website by Anil Dash, which champions the cause of hanging onto your existing gadgets instead of buying new ones.

But I sell my old phone pre-loved to some other person for a price vastly less than what I paid for it not throw it away. iPhones have that strange effect just like the perfectly servicable for web and email, 3 year old MacBook Pro that is being handed down to my little sister.

Not all of us are mindless thrower awayers of our old technology.
posted by Talez at 2:47 PM on June 27, 2010


[Elitist guitarist comment re: tube amps being better than solid state here]
posted by Threeway Handshake at 2:49 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


From Wikipedia: Equipment such as medical electronics and space equipment that require high quality and reliability make use of tantalum capacitors.
Low-voltage tantalum capacitors are commonly used in large numbers for power supply filtering on computer motherboards and in peripherals due to their small size and long-term reliability.[3][4]

Yeah, so I guess desktop PCs do have them.
posted by fixedgear at 2:53 PM on June 27, 2010


oh great, they did a lame rip-off of a campaign that's been dead and done for two months. that's a weak start. and that whole conflict-rape-spiel they're playing leaves the sour taste of "then what else could I buy" in my mouth, mainly because the answer would be no computer at all. which quite frankly isn't anything I'm willing to do. I'm sticking with macs.
posted by krautland at 2:53 PM on June 27, 2010


Funny that you bring this up right now, because in the Financial Regulation package winding it's way through congress, one of the provisions that has made it into the final bill deals explicitly with conflict minerals from the Congo and surrounding countries. This provision was inserted by Sen. Brownback, of all people. So, yeah, hat tip to him.
posted by Weebot at 2:57 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Story of Stuff is wonderfully done. It points out the problems inherent in the system, but it didn't leave me feeling despondent and hopeless. It reminds me of this wonderful article that I recently read: My 90% Rule. I have a hard time with perfectionism, and giving myself permission to only recycle 90% of the time, or buy a new shirt 10% of the time has made living green a whole lot easier on me. I'm less stressed, and doing a better job overall. The truth is - we're all part of the system. But that doesn't mean we can't work to change it.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:07 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have to agree with quadrilaterals, and also add that the idea that we can solve the world's problems through individual consumer choices becomes attractive at the exact moment when we abandon collective action as inherently "totalitarian". All this frantic activity to change one's lifestyle to be more ethical really functions to conceal the fact that we want things to stay basically as they are.
posted by AlsoMike at 3:08 PM on June 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Related in the opposite direction, Last Year's Model a project/website by Anil Dash, which champions the cause of hanging onto your existing gadgets instead of buying new ones.

This is a little tangential, but re: Last Year's Model, every time I return to that site, I keep wishing it had more there. More ways for people to sign on to the movement (e.g., a rolling list of endorsements, a petition-style form for giving them your own endorsement, etc.), and more ways to share it (a ShareThis tag? a Facebook Like tag?) than Digging or joining a Facebook group or posting an image on one's website sidebar.

I feel like it would be nice if it were a forum (since sadly, the last comment on its single post was in April 2009, and I don't see a lot of #lastyears tags on Twitter), or perhaps a (curated) "lifestream" sort of site aggregating or Tumbling mentions of #lastyears (à la the now-defunct lazyweb.org, which tracked online "lazyweb" requests up until 2006), or just something that was more...listy, with links to tips/websites/products making news on the Interwebs that adhere to that approach, e.g. OldVersion.com.

I guess basically I wish it were a tumblelog. It's not my site, though, and so I don't know—perhaps the creators thought about having all of those things and decided just to keep it a short and sweet single-serving site. Long story short, I just wish it were more of an ongoing movement than it is, I guess.
posted by limeonaire at 3:10 PM on June 27, 2010


Ugh, terrible. Nothing surprises me anymore. And this isn't like diamonds where you can just... not buy diamonds. This technology is everywhere, and it's so hard to find the good stuff from the bad. Recycling, as many have said, is one step, I guess.
posted by Lizsterr at 3:13 PM on June 27, 2010


I'm a Mac pretty much any electronic device on the planit and I've got a dirty little secret capacitor.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:14 PM on June 27, 2010


JK Galbraith and his Economics of Innocent Fraud always spring to mind when something like this comes up.
posted by yoHighness at 3:15 PM on June 27, 2010


Thanks for bringing this to my attention; I am selling my Mac and buying a Dell. I can infer from its omission in this well-crafted FPP that Dell does not fund warlords.

This is a myth. Tantalum is in literally EVERY electronic device in your home, and Apple is by no means a worse culprit than anyone else. Apple's tantalum almost certainly comes wholly from Chinese mines. Please do not spread this misinformation.

A new world's record! Mefi's own entropicamericana and MaxK were able to go from zero to clueless in .3 seconds. I mean you do realize that they're just piggybacking on a popular ad campaign to try and get their message out and not targeting Apple per se right?
posted by MikeMc at 3:33 PM on June 27, 2010


Apple is picked on because it's high-profile, just like the people who are against the corn subsidy picked on corn syrup because it's in so many things.

I'm all for making ethical choices, but when you mislead people to advance the cause, you're crossing the line.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 3:48 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wasn't this made using a digital camera?
posted by Esoquo at 3:56 PM on June 27, 2010


I hand make all my high tech electronics from local, organic materials.
posted by iamck at 4:06 PM on June 27, 2010


Tube amps use capacitors, too, but back then they used to call them condensers. My 12AU7 is quite ethical. I'm not sure about that 6V6, though.
posted by rfs at 4:06 PM on June 27, 2010


Five misconceptions about Congo
1. The conflict in the DRC is all about minerals.
Not quite. The war began in 1996, with three main causes: the collapse of the Zairian state after 32 years of misrule; the spillover from the Rwandan genocide with a million refugees (including perpetrators of genocide) on Congolese soil; and local conflicts over land, citizenship and power. There was a lot of money made from looting tin and gold stocks in the Kivus in 1996/7, and some multinationals (Lundin, AMF, De Beers) made deals with the rebels before they got to Kinshasa, but there is little indication that this was a main motivation for the war.

More substantial involvement in the minerals trade began with the coltan boom of 1999-2001. Now the minerals trade is the the largest money maker in the Kivusm, and many armed groups, including the Congolese army, heavily tax the minerals trade and make a fortune. But they also make money off charcoal (a $30 million dollar trade around Goma alone), fuel (the biggest import commodity) and other trade.

Also, there are many areas where there are rebel groups but few minerals - for example, the Lord's Resistance Army, that massacred over 300 people in December, does not appear to be exploiting the mineral trade. Laurent Nkunda's CNDP, possibly the strongest militia in the region until 2009, only controlled one mine, although they had interests in many trading companies in Goma for which they provided protection.

So yes, mining is a key element in the conflict and has served to prolong the fighting and motivate some of the actors. But the violence is a result of a many things and to reduce it to mining would be simplistic.

2. Coltan, a key ingredient for cell phones, is the main mineral traded in the Congo
Nope. Coltan does contain tantalum, which is a crucial ingredient for cell phones. Coltan exports peaked in 2000 due to a bubble in the market, but collapsed and little coltan was exported between 2002-2007. Tin is still king: In 2009, according to Congolese government figures, 520 tons of coltan were exported from the Kivus and around twenty times as much tin.

[Caveat: because a lot of coltan gets exported as tin (it's twice as valuable, so its cheaper to export it as tin), we may not have very accurate figures. Also, recently coltan prices have been climbing up again after several big mines elsewhere in the world suspended operations.]

It's also important to note that over 80% of the world's tantalum comes from Australia, Brazil and Canada, according to the US Geological Survey.
posted by lullaby at 4:22 PM on June 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


I can't actually return to hunter gathererism, it is actually not on the table, it is actually not a conscious choice I made. Let's consider what is.

Yes, let's. You could, easily enough, become a small-scale organic farmer. People do that. If you don't have enough to buy land in your own country, you could probably find a country where you can. You could drastically reduce your technology use that way. Are you willing to do that? Isn't there a moral imperative to do so? That's the question that I think needs to be considered, given the potential practical (and, yes, emotional) consequences of attaching some kind of vast moral gravity to any and every use of modern technology in one's life.

There's a concept I've been trying to argue since I joined MetaFilter, though I haven't succeeded in expressing it intelligibly so far. The idea is basically the "butterfly effect": that everything you do, every muscle you move, has vast networks of effects that potentially affect everyone and everything in the world in some way, good for some and bad for others. I doubt very much that this is an artifact of modernity; it's probably true regardless of historical time period. The difference is that with modern communication, it is possible to be more aware of such networks of effects as they extend beyond your tribe.

The problem is that, the further away from the source action that you look, the more widely those actions have propagated, and the more effects you now have to consider. Only negative effects are likely to be reported on by some watchdog and thereby make it to your eyes, and only a tiny fraction of them at that. But even if we did know the whole network, finding some set of actions that produces a certain desired net result, taking all side-effects into account, would be potentially a hard problem, similar to solving a system of equations whose size is unimaginable, and maybe infinite. The best you can realistically do in such systems is to think about their consequences to some finite-order approximation. That means looking at the effects only far enough away that you can still think clearly about them all at once. Any effects further than that should be considered only if very large in proportion to your contribution.

For example, let's say I switch from one phone to another because of this issue. But what if the captain of the freighter that transports the iPhones happened to be a humanitarian who donates more money to Congo-related causes per unit that his boat carries than are offset by my infinitesimal Tantalum purchase? Or what if the captain of the freighter that carries my new phone loves tomatoes and therefore contributes much more than a normal person to the problems of slavery among tomato growers in Florida? Or what if your purchasing decision just drives down the costs of iPhones due to the fall in demand, triggering a paradoxical increase in purchases?

These kinds of things are not at all unlikely. Do you really think we can fix these problems by collectively making tiny decisions so far out on the horizon of cause and effect? I think it's a waste of time, energy, advocacy, patience, and intelligence that could be better spent. I understand the desire to do something, but trying to fix a broken watch while wearing boxing gloves just isn't productive for anyone. You need finer control to even have a chance.

I bet if someone did a systematic study, the number of livelihoods you save (or rather, the fraction of one) by adding one phone to Apple's sales is about the same as, and maybe greater than the number of lives lost (or fraction of one) that you cost by doing so. I've seen nothing here that suggests that I'm wrong about that, at least.
posted by Xezlec at 4:27 PM on June 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you didn't already know that tantalum is a mineral that funds conflict in Africa, you're way the fuck behind, and if you're dumb enough to assume that Apple is the only company that uses tantalum capacitors, you're one of those Apple cultists I keep hearing so much about. That's what that means, right? People with a cult-like need to tie Apple into anything negative they possibly can?
posted by DecemberBoy at 4:27 PM on June 27, 2010


HEY I'M A PC AND I PRETEND TO GIVE A SHIT ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS AND STUFF IN ORDER TO PRESENT MYSELF AS AN ICONOCLAST IN CONTRAST TO A NONEXISTENT CULTLIKE FOLLOWING OF A COMPANY THAT I HATE FOR ENTIRELY UNRELATED REASONS, GIVE ME A FUCKING NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
posted by DecemberBoy at 4:33 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh by the way, I forgot to suggest an alternative. Silly me! Here's what I think we should do instead: pressure the governments in the region to do something, donate to relevant organizations (or even volunteer), and pressure our own governments to pressure the governments in the region to do something.
posted by Xezlec at 4:33 PM on June 27, 2010


My 12AU7 is quite ethical. I'm not sure about that 6V6, though

They are filled with real gas.
posted by fixedgear at 4:34 PM on June 27, 2010


Nicholas Kristof: Death by Gadget
posted by homunculus at 4:39 PM on June 27, 2010


Coltan is also one of the main ingredients in Terminator endoskeletons. By buying an iPhone that uses it, I am making it harder for Skynet to acquire large quantities of it in the future and I am saving untold future lives. Your children will thank me.
posted by entropicamericana at 4:52 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes, let's. You could, easily enough, become a small-scale organic farmer.

We also have a limited amount of time and energy in our lives.

There's a concept I've been trying to argue since I joined MetaFilter, though I haven't succeeded in expressing it intelligibly so far. The idea is basically the "butterfly effect": that everything you do, every muscle you move, has vast networks of effects that potentially affect everyone and everything in the world in some way, good for some and bad for others.

Yes, but this isn't anything new, and the further out you go the more these effects become diminished to decimal points. Your examples pose a couple of chaotic interactions that show how acting can be counter-productive, but that is noise. If enough people act, the signal will still get through.

Yeah, I live in the first world, yeah, I'm writing this on a computer, and yeah, I'm sure we can come up with another footprint method to describe how many third world lives I've ruined given my consumer habits. I would still like to know how I can make things better. If people have suggestions of causes I can contribute to that have rational mission statements, I'd like them not to be shouted down.

Well for starters, what we are doing now, talking about it, is a good first step. It's not the last step, but right now most people don't even know this is happening. The more cognizant we all are about the violent and oppressive roots of our way of life, the easier it is to push for change.

The point isn't to instantly stop it from happening now. The point is to shift the center of gravity of the situation. People are hesitant to support warlords, but most don't know they are doing so.

Making these facts common knowledge will help the situation to change by degrees. Not to downplay the difficult decisions involved along the way, but at least we'll know the decisions are there to be made. Then more people will be thinking of solutions, our elected officials will know that we care about the situation to impose sanctions, market forces can be brought to bear against the warlords, consumers can choose alternative products, and so on. Public knowledge that the problem exists allows the momentum of the system to begin to turn against the villains.
posted by JHarris at 4:53 PM on June 27, 2010


There's a concept I've been trying to argue since I joined MetaFilter

You're using a computer to argue on Metafilter, potentially wasting precious resources and helping fuel warfare in the Congo. WHY ARE YOU SO COLD AND HEARTLESS?!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:08 PM on June 27, 2010


I claim no serious understanding of the situation at large, or if any of these means will really help, but here's my work from a few moments of searching:

Democratic Republic of Congo (wiki page for general background) was impacted by the genocide in neighboring Rwanda, and the country was the site of a "proxy war" that was possibly carried out as a cover to loot the country's riches. The UN stepped in, at one point there were 20,000 UN troops in DR Congo (June 21, 2004), though the general UN efforts were not wholly effective, and crowds of protesters threw rocks outside four U.N. compounds in Goma, claiming peacekeepers had failed to protect them from rebels (Oct. 28, 2008).

Recently, rebel groups in eastern Congo were illegally imposing taxes, and forging "United Nations certificates" to facilitate the sale of Congolese gold to buyers in Africa (5/27/2010). In a significant setback to humanitarian efforts, Floribert Chebeya, the president of Congolese non-governmental organization La Voix des Sans-voix or VSV (Voice for the Voiceless) was found dead on the road going out of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, according to police. (June 3, 2010). Nearly 1,000 people gathered for the funeral of Chebeya with mourners paying tribute to a man who "earned... a place in the pantheon of heroes." (June 26, 2010).

Charities and Ways to Help
* La Voix des Sans-voix (Google translation)
* Women For Women - Congo Women need your help
* International Rescue Committee - Special Report: Congo
* Oxfam International - Conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
* Amnesty USA - Democratic Republic of Congo Human Rights

Per Charity Watch:
* Top-rated charities working in international relief and development
* The best ways to assist in providing emergency relief in Africa (though the only agency working for/with DR Congo is Action Against Hunger)
posted by filthy light thief at 5:08 PM on June 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I keep reading about this Dr Congo guy in the news. He doesn't seem like a very nice person.

Anyway, I think Apple gets "picked on" mostly because the type of people who care about these issues also tend to be Apple devotees.
posted by dirigibleman at 5:09 PM on June 27, 2010


Tube amps use capacitors, too, but back then they used to call them condensers.

Tube amps typically use ceramic, mica and aluminum electrolytic capacitors (condensers), but not tantalum.

Tantalum caps tend to be relatively low-voltage and low capacitance compared to the the others; well below the voltages you typically find in tube amps.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:37 PM on June 27, 2010


So, what the hell are these campaigns proposing, what are there concrete solutions?

All I see is demand for conflict mineral free products? But what does that mean exactly? Are we supposed to ask for other products? Are the minerals supposed to come from somewhere else? Is this simply a matter of trying to starve warlords? And if the warlords are somehow prevented from profiting from these minerals, what steps will they take to plug that profit hole?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:45 PM on June 27, 2010


Anyway, I think Apple gets "picked on" mostly because the type of people who care about these issues also tend to be Apple devotees

That comment makes absolutely no logical sense, whatsoever. Your cognitive dissonance is deafening.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:24 PM on June 27, 2010


I agree that you are right, if I really wanted to I could become an organic farmer. (I think I would fail at it and starve, but that wouldn't mean I wasn't an organic farmer, just that I was a lousy one).

However, I do not think that is a viable plan to tackle this problem. Also, I think there are valid reasons that we aren't all subsistence farmers and I don't think a universal return to that lifestyle is desirable or would improve global human rights/happiness. Given population and wealth and land distribution I am also leaning towards calling it impossible as a large scale strategy, but I concede I haven't done the math on that.

I am not thrilled about the veil-of-ignorance argument that tolerating some inequality for an overall utility increase justifies the current state of affairs, (considering the extremes of the inequality and the fact that the people who are most unequal never have access to the education to learn about this enlightened social doctrine that rationalizes the yokes around their necks), but this isn't a perfect world, etc etc, there will alway be some inequality. My personal opinion is that there doesn't have to be quite this much, and that over time we can take reasonable steps to reduce it.

And I totally agree with you that making consumer choices as an individual will not solve these problems. For protests and boycotts and such action to be effective it does have to be organized. Individually refusing to purchase an iPhone will be virtually meaningless. Acting through demonstration to make sure that nobody in my town buys an iPhone from store X on day Y without seeing pictures of the people in the places where the resources and labor come from is slightly less meaningless. If it is organized so that this is the case in 20 cities it is less meaningless. If it gets media attention it is less meaningless. There has to be some solidarity or union for this sort of thing to cause change. That is the thing that I am most interested in hearing about really, because it seems to me that there are an awful lot of people who care about these issues but just seem unwilling or unable to act in concert, and I'm curious as to why.

Fundamentally, I would see buying land in the middle of nowhere and becoming an organic farmer not as an act of rugged individualism and strong personal principles, but for me it would just be an act of despair in the value of society as a thing that can be good.
posted by SomeOneElse at 6:32 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Coltan, mined chiefly in eastern Congo, is of course used in minute quantities to make Macs, but the primary industrial application is the production of heat-resistant and highly flexible metal exoskeletons.
posted by miyabo at 7:15 PM on June 27, 2010


Oops someone made my silly joke way before I did! But at least I can be the first to mention that John le Carre's The Interpreter takes place in the middle of the mining conflict.
posted by miyabo at 7:17 PM on June 27, 2010


Step 1: latch on to existing attention to a popular brand to get noticed
Step 2: describe something really awful that results from nearly all electronics purchases
Step 3: smear brand in Step 1 while it's really you / me / everyone who is at fault
posted by pkingdesign at 7:22 PM on June 27, 2010


Me: Anyway, I think Apple gets "picked on" mostly because the type of people who care about these issues also tend to be Apple devotees

BP: That comment makes absolutely no logical sense, whatsoever. Your cognitive dissonance is deafening.

Non sequitur.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:27 PM on June 27, 2010


I am surprised the blatant editorialization ("Apple is Evil") did not result in a post deletion. Honestly, it's time for a ban on posts that mention Apple. The results are always so fucking tiresome. Apple's the technology equivalent of Isreal/Palestine.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:38 PM on June 27, 2010


There exist busybodies who want to control my life by telling me what to do and what not to do. They'd be doing it with the law if they could, but it happens that they cannot. Fortunately.

So they try to do it with fear mongering and with guilt trips. If you keep doing the things I want you to stop doing, you could be endangering children! OMG! How can you feel good about yourself with all those dead children you're causing?

You're making the glaciers melt! You're bringing about the extinction of all life on the planet! You're financing murder and rapine! You're going to die of a stroke or heart attack or cancer! Just do what I tell you, and you can stop feeling bad about all of that and feel virtuous instead.

When I hear that kind of thing my bullshit detector goes off, and I ignore them forthwith.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:40 PM on June 27, 2010


I see a lot of people asking "So what should we buy, then?" The question is being asked with varying levels of aggro, but I assume that it's an honest question for all that.

The answer is: Not buy.

Kind of weird, right? But really simple.

Can't decide between a Blackberry or an iPhone?
Not buy.
Keep phone.

Torn between a Kindle and a Nook?
Not buy.
Read paper books.

Unsure whether to get an iPad or a Netbook?
Not buy.
Use existing computers.

Not saying we should all throw everything away and forage for nuts and tubers in the highway median. Just saying that your life is pretty complete right now, with the panoply of technology you have at your fingertips today, is it not?

There are consequences to the purchase of new things, even if you sell or regift or donate the old things. New things are made from natural resources; they don't just appear on the store shelves at midnight with a "Foop!" noise of displaced air.
posted by ErikaB at 7:52 PM on June 27, 2010 [7 favorites]


Step 1: latch on to existing attention to a popular brand to get noticed
Step 2: describe something really awful that results from nearly all electronics purchases
Step 3: smear brand in Step 1 while it's really you / me / everyone who is at fault


This is why I absolutely loathe this post and others like it on Metafilter. It seeks to guilt a person into supporting a cause, while usually offering no means of actually solving the problem.

Like most people, I think of myself as moral and do things to try to live morally, while keenly aware that there are plenty of things I have no control over in this. This post, with it's implicit damnation, not just of Mac users but of anyone who uses an electronic device, does no good for the human spirit. It seeks to cheaply manipulate a person into a course of action that offers no real solution (the warlords will find some other way to make cash) other than relief from the guilt one feels knowing that there are others worse off in the world and that in many ways you are profiting from their misery, even though you don't actively seek to do so.

I can not stop using computers, they are how I make my livelihood. I have no idea what a conflict mineral free computer entails and the links don't explain either or how to do it or what the repercussions or side effects would or could be. That lack of resolution, after painting me and everyone else as accomplices in death and rape in the Congo, inspires nothing by a bitter hatred of this post and its tactics.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:52 PM on June 27, 2010


Apple's the technology equivalent of Isreal/Palestine.

Yep. I don't even bother discussing Apple with anybody anymore. Haters wanna hate and lovers think it's a panacea. There's no middle ground. Don't get me wrong I'll answer particular questions if people are having problems with OS X but I won't discuss the eternal debate.

I just try to change the subject before some fucktard chimes in with his personal hate ranting. You know the "HURR YOU PAID TWO THOUSAND FUCKING DOLLARS FOR A LAPTOP THAT ONLY LOOKS GOOD LOLOLOLOLOL" type or the "OMG I HAVEN'T UPDATE MY MAC VS PC HUMOUR SINCE 1995 AND DID YOU KNOW A MAC ONLY HAS ONE BUTTON LOLOLOLOL IM SO FUNNY MAKING FUN OF APPLE" retard. Then it becomes a "whatever I just like OS X better than Windows".

This is why we can't have nice things.
posted by Talez at 7:55 PM on June 27, 2010


It puts the lotion in the basket.
posted by minkll at 8:00 PM on June 27, 2010


Man, you think the "I'm a Mac" approach is frustratingly uncreative and derivative? You should have seen their early drafts, like "Got capacitors?" and "Where's the beef?"
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:13 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Your examples pose a couple of chaotic interactions that show how acting can be counter-productive, but that is noise. If enough people act, the signal will still get through.

I don't buy that. That would only be true if people acted in ways that were entirely uncorrelated except for the common thread of each having some tiny effect on the Congo. If everybody does the same thing, i.e. not buying technology, there is no averaging effect to strengthen the signal. (Processing large numbers of data sources to amplify weak signals is what I do for a living, so yes, I am familiar with the concept.) The signal, even at its clearest point, becomes no clearer than "down with technology".

the violent and oppressive roots of our way of life

This rhetoric is the main reason I have a hard time taking this stuff seriously. I buy products that ultimately affect probably 6 billion lives. Some relatively small proportion of those people are doing bad things to each other at any given time, just by virtue of how many of them there are. Some of the worst of those things become news, and my way of life gets accused of having "violent and oppressive roots," because, like everybody else, those people produce a product, and like everybody else, I consume products, and like any two products, those products are related in some way. This would be true for any way of life except total isolation a la North Korea. It is certainly true even for a medieval world, as long as trade exists in some form. I wish I had the skill with words to explain exactly how unsympathetic to your cause this hyperbole makes me.

Acting through demonstration to make sure that nobody in my town buys an iPhone from store X on day Y without seeing pictures of the people in the places where the resources and labor come from is slightly less meaningless.

That, I'll buy. But I still think it's an odd way to go at it. I guess I have a hard time seeing such an indirect approach as the best way to go about things.
posted by Xezlec at 8:18 PM on June 27, 2010


Come on people. If we all pull together we can get Congo up to a point where it's politicians who are taking all of the mining revenue and raping everybody instead of warlords.
posted by XMLicious at 8:21 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Politicians = former warlords
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:29 PM on June 27, 2010


try telling it to a 20-something, though. they just don't care.

Not only do we not care about the horrible wars our planetkilling gadgetlust fuels, we don't care when you deliver a ridiculously generalized broadside like this to our entire generation!

HAMBURGER
posted by spitefulcrow at 8:54 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Non sequitur.

Those words do not mean what you think they mean.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:35 PM on June 27, 2010


So, as of today, is there a list of products complying with such a conflict-free electronics policy ?
posted by nicolin at 3:07 AM on June 28, 2010


I saw this: "Autonomous robotic exoskeletons for use in military applications" and had to wonder. It's good to know someone is slathering the Terminator Franchise all over a Wikipedia article about mineral resources. I think I'll go add Stutterwarp Engines to the list and see is someone deletes them both or creates a in popular culture section.

Bonus points if you know the obscure RPG I am referencing.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:10 AM on June 28, 2010


So let's pretend I'm a Congolese warlord and you all are the world economy. OK, so I'm extorting money from the Tantalum trade to fund my warlording. You're going to stop me by not buying anything that uses Tantalum, right?

Ha ha! Not so fast. I'll just extort money from the Tin trade! What, you're not buying anything containing tin?

Ha ha! Not so fast. I'll just extort money from the diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, zinc, textiles, footwear, cigarettes, processed foods and beverages, cement or commercial ship repair trade (in roughly that order).

Turn off the entire Congolese economy! Ha ha! Not so fast. Once the bottom falls out on the economy, you can get some really great deals on the child soldier market.

How can anyone argue that this is not all Steve Jobs fault.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:39 AM on June 28, 2010


All this back and forth about whether this /specific/ set of minerals is "causing" this /specific/ set of conflicts is exactly the problem. Of course, we all want true facts: such-and-such specific is the root cause of so-and-so conflict. No one wants to hear that this modern life is predicated on the continued existence of a lop-sided global economy that behaves not much better than the old colonial model we all love to hate.

Not recognizing that global trade has both benefits and deficits is silly. Not recognizing that large multinational resource companies often target poor African nations in order to extract the minerals at the lowest possible cost, and that these larges brands don't want you to associate this dirty little fact with their products is silly.

Please note that there are people in our universities and governments that have suggested that since Africa has such low incidences of cancer and other diseases that are associated with high density industrialization, the global North/West should feel free to export our waste and offload our industrial problems onto the continent at our own profit. These suggestions have become part of the global policies of the IMF and other NGOs that operate in Africa.

So, yeah. The systems we have created to supply us with phones and computers and TVs is killing people around the world. And the system is tuned to maximize profits for a select few transnational corporations but still maintain bargain prices for us. With a situation like that, you can go ahead and assume things are going to be shittiest for the other people in that system. Keeping those costs hidden /is/ part of the tacit agenda of Apple, at al.

What are you going to do about that?
posted by clvrmnky at 6:06 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


And without technology, we wouldn't have known about this conflict. So now what?
posted by stormpooper at 6:28 AM on June 28, 2010


Without technology, we wouldn't know how it ends!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:32 AM on June 28, 2010


All this frantic activity to change one's lifestyle to be more ethical really functions to conceal the fact that we want things to stay basically as they are.

I don't understand this perspective. I suppose you would rather have us all drop out of the "system"? From where I'm standing, that would really serve to do very little. There is no turning back from modernity. God is dead. We're not going to undiscover all of these facets of science, and all of these technologies. That's a pipe dream with a dead end. Either we fix what we have by working within the system to change collective attitudes and behavior to be more rational and conscientious, by making technologies and infrastructure cater to humanity, or we destroy ourselves in the process of trying.
posted by tybeet at 7:00 AM on June 28, 2010


I'd also like to point out that all of those people knee-jerkingly defending Apple really ought to watch the video, visit the site, etc... Apple isn't the only target. It just so happens that their advertising meme was used to deliver this message.
posted by tybeet at 7:02 AM on June 28, 2010


You could, easily enough, become a small-scale organic farmer. People do that. If you don't have enough to buy land in your own country, you could probably find a country where you can.

Easily enough? Easily enough? This is my dream. If you can tell me how to make this happen, I will give you $100.

I owe $356k on a house that will sell for $200k, if it sells at all. Mr. Cereselle has been out of work for going on 5 years now. The job market here sucks, but we can't afford to sell and move out. Even if jingle mail were an option (it's not), that would affect our ability to buy land here or anywhere else. Not to mention that immigration would be less than easy if we had no jobs in the new country, and no experience in farming such that immigration authorities would be assured that we would be successful, and not be a burden on their society.

I desperately WANT to be a small-scale organic farmer. However, having grown up in this society at this time, it is a very difficult goal to reach. Dropping out of modern society is not a simple task.
posted by cereselle at 9:08 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Easily enough? Easily enough? This is my dream. If you can tell me how to make this happen, I will give you $100.

Look, starting any business is not easy, particularly when you're starting from a disadvantage. What do you want to do with the short time you have on this planet? Do you want to stay stuck for years and years or start moving on now?

The first thing you need to do is walk away from your mortgage, if you know you can do no-recourse. No job with a house underwater is not a good place to start. Bad credit and no debt is a far better place to be - if you have no-recourse options in your state.

Second, it's possible to get land grants for agricultural business, and in some areas they encourage small farms through these types of incentives. You need to have a business plan, but all the information you need to do this and to get where you want to go is online. Make sure you understand the implications of defaulting on a loan re: applying for grant money. You can start a LLC with very little to shield you from liability and act as a business entity rather than an individual with bad credit. These are just some ideas. How bad do you want to do this? Does it have to be easy for you to start?

It's not easy, but it's easier than being stuck.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:58 PM on June 28, 2010


Gadget Makers Forced To Look At Links To Congo War
posted by homunculus at 10:28 AM on July 25, 2010


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