Spontaneously combusting smartphones may be in the news, but the danger not being reported is the one caused by the minerals inside these devices. Conflict minerals have fostered violence where they’re mined in central Africa, and the U.S. response has made the situation worse.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the average resident lives on about $400 a year, mining is the most lucrative game around. The value of the Congo’s mineral reserves is estimated at $24 trillion, according to the United Nations Environmental Program, most of them dug by informal miners working with picks and shovels. But in a nation that has been crushed by civil war on and off for two decades, much of the mining sector is now controlled by militias that have committed murder, rape and other atrocities against civilians.
When Congress passed the Dodd-Frank financial bill in 2010, it included a provision aimed at curbing the violence caused by these minerals. Companies like Apple and Intel use the metals to make electronic components in devices such as cellphones and laptops.