An ugly truth behind ‘ethical consumerism’ – by Laura Kasinof (Washington Post – April 19, 2018)

Laura Kasinof is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, Georgia. Reporting for this story was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

KACHUBA, Congo — The way to the mine wound upward past fields of cassava and sweet potato, a patchwork quilt of small farms set among villages of round, thatched-roof homes. An hour’s climb up, the Kachuba tin mine community is a collection of shacks that serves as a home-away-from-home for the hundred or so men who come here hoping to make a living wage out of what the mountain provides.

Men toted 110-pound bags of cassiterite — the most common tin-producing ore — down the footpath to a station below, where it would be prepared for export. For each bag a porter carries, he earns around $4. If the mine is producing well, a porter might make the roundtrip a handful of times a day.

On the other side of the makeshift village, down a sharp hill, the serenity of Kachuba’s natural beauty suddenly gave way to the grit of hard manual labor. Here there was a nearly 500-foot-deep pit, at the end of which men spend their days picking at the earth with rudimentary tools. The miners said, on a good day, they can make almost $30 in the pit, working from morning until dark.

Until recently, the miners had been selling the five or so tons of tin they chiseled out of the mountain each day to whomever came with the best offer. The Kachuba mine was designated as “conflict-free” in December 2017. Before then, the mineral was often tagged as conflict-free anyway — fraudulently.

American companies rely on so-called bag-and-tag systems to assure the minerals they source from Congo are not fueling armed conflict. Even before it was technically conflict-free, tin from Kachuba made its way into the market anyway: to exporters, onto smelters, to consumer electronics companies and eventually into the appliances that power the daily lives of people around the world.

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