Could your Laptop Battery Fund a War? 203

Do not be surprised if you are covertly funding a war in the Congo. Tantalum, a dark heavy mineral mined in the Congo forms a key component of your laptop battery. Without Tantalum capacitors, power regulation within the laptop battery would be impossible. The upsurge in laptop sales has kicked a demand of the mineral and in turn escalated the war in Congo where this precious commodity of the digital age resides in abundance. Tantalum is one of the four major minerals exports from the Democratic Republic of the Congo; every laptop battery bought probably keeps a war general in power as he ensures the spades turn the soil to unearth the mystic mud and avail it to the electronic component manufacturers.

tantalum

Together with gold, tin and tungsten; tantalum is categorized as a conflict mineral in Eastern Congo where children and captives are forced to dig up the mineral. In addition, proceeds from the sale of the mineral goes into buying weapons that further escalates anarchy in the region. The label ‘blood tantalum’ is now common to signify tantalum sourced from conflict areas. There are no official prices of tantalite (tantalum ore); the prices are driven by supply, demand and volatility of the Central Africa region. Prices fluctuate all year round depending on stability of the Congo, periods of relative peace are characterized by lower tantalum prices and the converse is true. Currently, the international price of tantalum is $300 per pound. Electronic manufacturers pass this cost to consumers and now you understand why your laptop battery costs a little bit more than it should.

China is the number one buyer of Congolese Tantalum, if your laptop battery is made in China then there is a higher chance that you are indirectly keeping a rebel general in power. That’s why Senator San Brownback introduced the Conflict Mineral Trade Act in April 2009 that require electronic component manufactures to publicly disclose their source of minerals categorized as conflict minerals. This is to curb human rights abuse in Congo and protect America consumers from unknowingly funding wars thousands of miles away.

The Second Congo war that started out in 1998 claimed 5.4 million souls and was almost entirely funded by tantalum sale. The Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo contains soil rich in Coltan, an admixture of tantalum and other minerals. Miners trespass into the National Park to shovel and park the Coltan rich soil in bags and carry them back to their camps. Due to the long distance between the camps and the National Park, these ‘miners’ hunt and eat gorillas in the jungle further causing a degradation of the ecological balance. Children also drop out of school to join the Coltan trade due to its lucrative nature. It is a form of voluntary slavery that gets them a few dollars in the pocket, a pound of unprocessed Coltan fetches them $10. Next time you purchase a laptop battery take sometime to think about the whole process that brought about the product.