August 16, 2012

Report: Nintendo Worst Among Tech About ‘Blood Phones’ and ‘Conflict Minerals’

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Companies have taken a significant step towards eradicating "blood phones" and "conflict minerals," but there is still more work to be done, according to a new report.

A new investigative Enough Project report assessed companies and what measures they are taking to ensure the materials they use to build their electronic devices are not bought at the highest of prices.

A conflict arose back in the early 2000's when nations caught word that diamonds were being mined in war zones, and sold to help finance insurgency and a warlord's activities. The realization of the diamond mining process in the Western culture, and the brutality that harvesting the rocks caused led to an agreement by governments to start closing in on the problem, and try to eradicate "blood diamonds" from the market.

Now, with the rise in popularity of smartphones, other minerals are being harvested by war torn countries and sold to help create the devices we use to check things like Facebook with.

The Dodd-Frank Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 21, 2010, which requires electronics companies to verify and disclose their sources of cassiterite, wolframite, and tantalum. This act has helped the battle against blood phones and conflict minerals.

The new report involved interviews with 143 people in Congo and Rwanda, and found that this legislation and more stringent tech industry policies has led to about a 65 percent decrease in profit over the past two years for armed groups in eastern Congo.

These armies in eastern Congo help add fuel to their gun fire through mining and selling minerals of tin, tantalum, and tungsten, which are used in electronic devices.

The Enough Project also said that this financial strain, coupled with military pressure, has attributed to a 75 percent decrease in size over the past two years of the Rwandan Hutu FDLR militia, which is a notorious rebel group operating in eastern Congo.

Over 100 miners in North and South Kivu were involved in interviews with the project, the majority of which viewed the transformation of clean minerals trade as a way to liberate themselves from slave-like working conditions.

Many miners in the Kivus have changed livelihood strategies over the past year, to work in conflict-free mines in neighboring provinces or in the agriculture or small business sectors. However, the project said these miners need greater security and increased start-up capital in order to succeed.

"The Dodd-Frank law is making a serious dent on the militias in eastern Congo, cutting their profits from the conflict minerals of tin, tantalum, and tungsten by more than 60 percent,” Fidel Bafilemba, co-author of the report, said in a statement. “Miners, despite their lower incomes in the short term, support the reforms that will free them from the slave-like conditions they have lived through in the mines."

The Enough Project created a list of companies progress in sifting out the conflict minerals in their electronic devices. Companies like Intel, Motorola Solutions, Hewlett Packard and Apple made progress in helping to stop products like blood phones from being distributed. However, not every company showed improvement over the past few years.

Companies including HTC, Sharp, Nikon and Canon were black listed as some of the companies that are not making great efforts towards putting an end to conflict minerals. The biggest offender, according to the report, is Nintendo.

"Nintendo has made no known effort to trace or audit its supply chain," the "taking conflict out of consumer gadgets" report said. "Sharp, HTC, Nikon and Canon are taking initial steps to join industry efforts, but their progress remains far behind industry leaders."

Nintendo sent out a statement to CNN with its excuse that said the company "outsources the manufacture and assembly of all Nintendo products to our production partners and therefore is not directly involved in the sourcing of raw materials that are ultimately used in our products."

Although an obvious dent has been created in trading conflicted minerals, if companies like Nintendo keep choosing not to do anything about it, then blood devices may never be fully eradicated.

Also, gaps in follow-ups to the Dodd-Frank law allow armed groups in Congo to continue to trade gold and smuggle other conflict minerals into neighboring countries.

The Enough Project said that from 2010 to 2011, Rwanda's mineral exports rose 62 percent compared with only a 22 percent rise in domestic mining production and a decline in Congo's mineral exports of 75 percent.

The report suggests the U.S. ensure that the independent monitoring mechanism of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region is made operational quickly.

"Companies from the automotive, jewelry, and retail sectors should support Congolese conflict-free mining by joining the Public-Private Alliance and by beginning projects similar to the electronics industry´s Solutions for Hope project to partner with suppliers sourcing from conflict-free mines in Congo," the Enough Project said.