What Are Conflict Minerals?

Conflict Minerals Are Used In Circuit Boards

Creative Commons-licensed image courtesy of Flickr user johnmuk
Creative Commons-licensed image courtesy of Flickr user johnmuk

You may already be familiar with the term “Conflict Diamonds” or “Blood Diamonds,” which means diamonds that people have fought over.  “Conflict minerals” are the same thing – minerals which are mined from areas of the world where people are fighting over them. 

Why do people fight over conflict minerals?

Warlords in violent parts of the world require funding in order to maintain their power.  They get this funding by selling minerals, or the rights to mine the minerals.  Minerals represent cash, and criminals always need and want cash.  And they are willing to do awful things in order to keep it.

Which minerals are conflict minerals?

Almost any mineral can become a “conflict mineral” if people start fighting over it.  Today, most conflict minerals are those which are mined out of war-torn countries like The Congo and Rwanda. 

These minerals include cassiterite (tin), wolframite (tungsten), coltan (tantalum), and gold.

Who buys conflict minerals?

These minerals are being bought by processing plants which create electronics.  The electronics are then sold on the consumer market to us (like MP3 players, cell phones, laptops, GPS devices, and more) or sold for industrial use (like pacemakers, airbags, oxygen sensors, and so forth). 

Unfortunately the short answer is “we all do.”

How can I avoid buying products made with conflict minerals?

At this point, there are no manufacturers which are deliberately sourcing their materials from conflict-free zones.  Any electronics device, anything with a circuit board or solder, contains conflict minerals.  The best option is to keep the gadgets you already have!  Do you really need a new cell phone?  Probably not.  Can you get by with that laptop for another year?  Probably so. 

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