By now most of us know that our smartphones—amazing as they might be—come at the cost of others’ well-being. The phones (and most electronic gadgets) need minerals like tin, tantalum, and tungsten to work. In eastern Congo, armed groups control the mines these minerals come from, using profits to maintain continued tyranny over mines, trading routes, and local populations. Millions have been killed and displaced in eastern Congo, where mass rape is also used as a way to intimidate and control locals. After the conflict minerals are gathered, of course, they are transformed into the phones we love at factories with poor and dangerous working conditions.
“You can campaign and create awareness but phones aren’t going to go away,” said Tessa Wernink in an interview with Ethical Consumer (Nov./Dec. 2013). “If people don’t have an alternative then campaigning doesn’t really make sense.” Wernink is the director of Fairphone, the first mobile phone to make ethics and transparency its top priority. Three years in the making, the phone was recently released to the European market.
While a fair trade smartphone option will put pressure on the entire industry to clean up its act, that’s not the only hopeful news. Armed groups in the Congo are already making just 35 percent of what they collected in 2010 from trade in conflict minerals. We have the Dodd-Frank Act to thank for that, says Ethical Consumer, as well as pressure on the industry from activists and consumers.