EARTH Magazine: Finding and Tracking Conflict Minerals in the Heart of Darkness

EARTH Magazine

From EARTH Magazine, 10/21/2015  --  What's the origin of the smartphone you're holding or the tablet from which you are reading this? They're made from minerals such as tin, tantalum and tungsten - minerals that aren't found in many places in the world. One place they are found in relative abundance is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where these minerals have been fueling militias in an ongoing war for the last 25 years. But the financial, technology, mining and geologic communities are coming together to identify, track and remove these tainted minerals from the global supply chain, with the goal of helping reduce war.

Several years ago, word started to spread throughout the West that our reliance on these so-called conflict mineral resources from the DRC was funding ethnic atrocities. Consumers took notice, multinational companies took notice and eventually the U.S. Congress took notice. In the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Consumer Protection Act, which Congress passed in 2010, was a provision that required that U.S. publicly traded companies conduct due diligence to determine if their supply chains were using conflict minerals from the DRC.  

Since then, electronics companies like Intel and Apple have been making strides to go conflict-mineral-free, and in fact declared that by 2014 none of their supply chains included conflict minerals. But how do they know? How do consumers know? How hard is it, in fact, to trace minerals from the ground through the supply chain; is it even feasible? And is it making any difference to the people in the DRC? In November's EARTH Magazine cover story, we explore these issues and more:

For more of the science behind the headlines, turn to EARTH Magazine's November issue, which includes stories on a potential connection between certain autoimmune diseases and solar activity, measurements of travertine buildup that provide insight into ancient Rome's aqueduct water usage, and explore the Cypriot Troodos Mountains - one of the most famous ophiolite sequences in the world.