Monitoring Conflict Minerals: Who's Accountable? The Senate recently passed a bill blocking the import of "conflict minerals," and the House is working on its own version. The Conflict Minerals Trade Act would require the U.S. government to map all mines in Congo and identify which are controlled by militias.
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Monitoring Conflict Minerals: Who's Accountable?

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Monitoring Conflict Minerals: Who's Accountable?

Monitoring Conflict Minerals: Who's Accountable?

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Congress is also looking into conflict minerals. You may have heard of conflict diamonds - diamonds mined in war zones and often sold to buy weapons. Conflict minerals are metals like gold and tin and elements like tantalum, which are used in computers and cell phones sold here in the United States.

Kristian Foden-Vencil of Oregon Public Broadcasting has this report.

KRISTIAN FODEN-VENCIL: Picture a muddy hole in the hills of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Dozens of men and often children dig with picks, shovels and hands under the watchful eyes of armed guards. The area is far from any town and in the middle of a war zone where millions have died.

Portland activist Lisa Shannon of RAISE Hope for Congo has been there and says the system is corrupt.

Ms. LISA SHANNON (RAISE Hope for Congo): You have either public mines and militias come and collect taxes at the mines, or they mine them themselves, or they control locals and have them mine on their behalf. And then they export illegally, very cheaply. And then those minerals are smuggled out through countries like Rwanda and Uganda and eventually make their way into smelting plants, where they're mixed with minerals from other locations and then they end up in our tech products.

FODEN-VENCIL: This morning, Shannon is standing across the street from an Intel chip manufacturing plant just outside Portland. Around her are about two dozen protesters carrying placards and pennies. One of them is Ann Shannon, Lisa's mother.

Ms. ANN SHANNON: Don't tell me that no American consumer is willing to pay a penny a product to save human lives and keep the Congolese blood and suffering out of our computers.

FODEN-VENCIL: Demonstrators are pushing for the swift passage of the Conflict Minerals Trade Act, which has been lumped together with the financial reform package moving through Congress. The trade act would require the U.S. government map out all mines in the Congo. The Commerce Department would then have to figure out which ones are being controlled by militias and which ones aren't. That way, protesters say, businesses will have to be responsible for their supply chains.

The protesters are outside Intel because they claim the company is trying to gut the act.

But even Lisa Shannon admits the action against Intel is a hard sell because Intel is one of a handful of businesses thats actually tried to do something.

Ms. SHANNON: They started a third-party audit program for the smelters of tantalum for their supply chain. And that was a huge step forward, and it was amazing. I was very disappointed last week when I was in D.C. and learned that they had been so heavily involved in the lobby effort to gut the bill.

FODEN-VENCIL: Intels spokesman, Chuck Malloy, says the company isn't trying to gut anything. He says Intel is neither supporting nor opposing the act. But he says after working for years across many different countries to clean up their tantalum supply, theyve come up with a better fix.

Mr. CHUCK MALLOY (Spokesman, Intel): We think we've identified a link in that supply chain, at the smelter level, that we can insert an audit process to ensure that the source of the material isn't a conflict area.

FODEN-VENCIL: The idea would be that if enough companies banded together to demand conflict-free minerals, smelters in China and elsewhere would be forced to clean up their supplies. It's a power of the purse over the power of legislation kind of argument.

Meanwhile, the group Global Witness, which tracks links between natural resources and conflicts, wrote to 200 businesses to see what they're doing about this issue. Most had absolutely no system to vet their supplies.

For NPR News, I'm Kristian Foden-Vencil in Portland.

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