Staunching the flow: blood minerals for smartphones

The instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is being fuelled by the need for minerals used in smartphones and other devices. EU legislation takes effect soon, but will it be enough to tackle the problem? Madeleine Rojahn reports.

In 2010, Danish director Frank Poulsen created the film Blood in the Mobile, where he investigated the mining of coltan (columbite-tantalite), a crucial element in powering our electronic devices, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

At the time, almost five million people had been killed in the country in ongoing struggles and political instability. Poulsen saw children crawl into claustrophobic tunnels 100 metres deep. The children sometimes did not surface for a week, because of the exhaustion of dragging their bodies back and forth. He watched them hack away at the walls of makeshift mines, with the legitimate fear that these walls would collapse and leave them crushed. Such events happened almost monthly, with fatal accidents involving 80 miners occurring between 2014 and 2015 in the former province of Katanga.

According to Unicef, in 2014 there were an estimated 40,000 child labourers in the DRC. Eight years after the film was released, thousands of people are still working there under these conditions. “As long as we let the market run our society, the agenda will be set by those who are willing to be the most greedy and the most brutal,” says Poulsen.

In 2021, the EU’s new Conflict Minerals Regulation is due to come ...

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