Thursday, July 08, 2010

Cell Phones' Ethical Hang-Up

Hello, I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC -- Here's How I Help Fuel the World's Deadliest Conflict

From the Huffington Post.

By: Brooke Smith and John Prendergast

Hello, I'm a Mac, and I'm helping fuel the war in the Congo - currently the deadliest conflict in the world. So are PCs, cell phones, digital cameras and other consumer electronics. That's what Apple's famous "I'm a Mac ... And I'm a PC" ads don't tell you. So I (Brooke) and cinematographer Steven Lubensky, with the help of actors Joshua Malina and John Lehr, decided to create a version that does.

It is not surprising if you didn't know that your favorite Apple gadgets -- your iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac -- are linked to the conflict engulfing the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo today and for the past dozen years. Most people don't know - which is in part why the war in Congo has gone on for so long. With more than 5 million people killed, it is the deadliest conflict since World War II.

As Nick Kristof wrote in The New York Times yesterday, "Electronics manufacturers have tried to hush all this up. They want you to look at a gadget and think 'sleek,' not 'blood.'"

Tech titans -- including Nintendo, HP, Dell, Intel, and RIM, the makers of BlackBerry -- have made millions from products that use conflict minerals and have gotten off the hook for fueling violence in the Congo, thanks to a tendency in today's culture not to question where our everyday items come from.

That's not necessarily a criticism; it's just the way the world works now, where we interact with materials from every corner of the globe on a daily basis. So we tend to think that our new iPhone came from the Mac store down the street or our new digital camera originated from an online camera store. But as you see in our video, the problem arises with all the components inside.

Essential parts of our electronic devices are made from minerals found in eastern Congo. Tin, tantalum, tungsten -- the 3Ts -- and gold serve such necessary functions as making our cell phones vibrate or helping our iPods store electricity.

The same armed groups who control most of the mines that supply these essential minerals to the world market are responsible for the epidemic of sexual violence in eastern Congo. Women and girls pay a gruesome price, and the persistent health conditions and severe trauma that linger for years after an attack are leaving communities and families in utter ruin. In addition, the labor conditions in the mines are abysmal. Indentured servitude is common practice, and children as young as 11 are used to squeeze into the tight spaces underground.

There are few conflicts in the world where the link between our consumer appetites and mass human suffering is so direct.

The lucrative mineral trade -- estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually -- perpetuates the violence because it enables militias and government soldiers to buy weapons to continue the fight for these valuable resources. All along the supply chain that winds its way through central Africa, armed groups and governments benefit immensely from the trade in conflict minerals, making it a very stubborn problem to eradicate.

This reality isn't the result of an elaborate cover-up. Until consumers started asking, electronics companies were satisfied to say that they didn't know whether their products were made with conflict minerals from Congo. The trade in minerals from eastern Congo is shockingly opaque, hence the easy exploitation. Even now, as the issue of conflict minerals gains traction, companies like Apple continue to tell us that their products do not contain conflict minerals because their suppliers said so.

From towns and campuses across the United States to the U.S. Congress, advocates are protesting this inadequate response and pushing to put a system in place to trace, audit, and certify the minerals in our electronic devices, so that ultimately, we as consumers can choose to buy conflict-free.

Visit RAISE Hope for Congo,, and send the message to tech companies that you want them to make their products conflict-free. And please share this video with your friends.

Brooke Smith is an actress, writer and director. Brooke has acted in many feature films including "The Silence of the Lambs", "Vanya on 42nd Street" and "Series 7: The Contenders." On television, Brooke played Dr. Erica Hahn on "Grey's Anatomy." The MAC/PC Conflict minerals ad is the third PSA Brooke has directed for The Enough Project's RAISE Hope for Congo campaign.

John Prendergast is Co-Founder of Enough, the anti-genocide project at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., and co-author with Don Cheadle of the forthcoming book The Enough Moment.


With the release of the new iPhone 4, various groups are attempting to raise consumer awareness about where the materials used in cell phones originate. The reality is sickening. Two opinion pieces posted within the last week, one by Brooke Smith and John Prendergast for the Huffington Post (shown above) and one by Nicholas Kristof (link below) for the New York Times, detail how our demand for cell phones, and lack of real corporate accountability are fueling the war in Congo, at least in part.

Essential minerals used in the production of cell phones, such as (Tin, tantalum, tungsten among others), are sourced from the Congo. The mineral trade is very lucrative there and those who are in control of the mines are the same people responsible for mass rape in the country along with indentured servitude and the use of child labor in these mines. Electronics companies claim that their products are free from conflict materials but this is because the suppliers tell them they are conflict free not because they are. This is why many people are calling for companies to take more interest and be more responsible for their supply chain.

If you are interested in learning more, please watch the video Brooke and her team put together which is posted here. To take action please visit and click on the Commit to Purchase Conflict Free Electronics, where you can email the 21 largest electronic companies and let them know you are committed to conflict free electronics. Tell your friends too. Until corporations know their customers are serious about conflict free materials, they won’t take the problem seriously. Make sure to check out Kristof’s article as well


  1. Hello,

    Is there another place I can go to view the video? It didn't come through.


  2. Insane. It will be difficult to change this, because technology is such a highly integrated part of our lives.