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How To Keep Conflict Minerals Out Of Your Daily Life (Sort Of)

Want to know that your cell phone isn’t going to fund murderous militias in Africa? You can, if you are buying from the right companies.

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Don’t want to deal with the feelings of guilt that come with having conflict minerals in your gadgets? The Enough Project, an initiative with the incredibly ambitious goal of ending genocide and crimes against humanity, has you covered. The project this month released a report ranking major electronics companies in their progress moving towards conflict-free supply chains that don’t fuel violence in war-torn areas of the Congo and elsewhere.

So can you rest easy? If you are a loyal customer of Intel, Motorola Solutions, HP, or Apple, yes. These four companies have all created comprehensive conflict mineral programs in the absence of legislation from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The programs include supply chain tracing to track the source of minerals, third-party auditing of smelters (who might otherwise combine clean metals with conflict minerals), and certification (i.e. The Public Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade, which supports a clean mineral supply chain in the Congo and elsewhere).

Out of those four companies, two stand out as exceptional leaders: Intel, which is working on a completely conflict-free microprocessor chip by next year; and HP, which is on its way to requiring suppliers to use only conflict-free smelters. Other companies that are quickly making progress include AMD, Sony, Toshiba, and Panasonic.

Changes by major companies like these actually make a big difference in the overall conflict mineral problem—the report explains that armed groups in the Congo can now make only 35% of what they made two years ago by mining and selling tin, tantalum, and tungsten. But there are still laggards—Canon, Nikon, Sharp, HTC, and Nintendo have done little to nothing to ensure that their supply chains are conflict mineral-free.

Other industries that use conflict minerals, like the jewelry industry, automakers, industrial machinery, and aerospace, aren’t doing nearly as much as electronic industry in ending the use of these bloodied metals. But there are some signs of progress. Some companies, including GE and Signet Jewelers, have joined a conflict-free smelter audit program. And the Responsible Jewelry Council has launched an audit program for jewelers.

But generally, the problem will only get better if consumers demand action. As the report notes, "Consumer activism will continue to serve as a motivator for corporate action that demonstrates the market potential for ethical products as well as an effective entry point for a national and international movement dedicated to peace in Congo."