Ethics institute illuminates link between computers, Congo conflict

Congo Conflict - Ethics Institute
For all the convenience and satisfaction you derive from your cell phone, computer and portable music player, it’s hard to imagine that using these products could be fueling atrocities in the eastern Congo.

Armed groups earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year by trading “conflict minerals,” particularly coltan, which are mined in the Congo and used in electronic devices. Government troops and militias fight to control the mines, murdering and raping civilians to fracture the structure of society, according to Enough Project, an organization that fights to end genocide and crimes against humanity worldwide.

J.D. Stier, campaign manager for Raise Hope for Congo, will be at Mercyhurst University on Thursday, Jan. 17, to heighten awareness of this global problem. Stier’s visit is made possible by the Evelyn Lincoln Institute for Ethics and Society at Mercyhurst University and the Enough Project. Stier will speak in Room 314 of Zurn Hall at 4:30 p.m. The presentation is free and open to the public.

Coltan, short for Columbite-tantalite, is a black tar-like mineral found in major quantities in the Congo. When coltan is refined, it becomes a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electric charge. The properties of refined coltan are a vital element in a vast array of small electronic devices, especially in mobile phones, laptop computers, pagers and other electronic devices.

According to Enough Project, minerals are smuggled out of Congo through neighboring countries, then shipped to smelters around the world for refinement, after which they easily make their way to the U.S. in consumer products.

“The point is that many companies who manufacture communication technology do not track where they get their coltan supply,” said Stephanie Barnhizer of Mercyhurst’s ethics institute. “The goal is to make companies responsible for where they get their supply of coltan. Also, consumers should be informed regarding their purchases so they can make a genuine decision regarding whether or not they want to purchase technology using coltan that is unethically sourced.”
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