The Republic of Congo has been in turmoil for many years and its wealth of minerals have helped fund much of the conflict. Some of those funds come from US consumers who buy electronic gadgets that use Congolese minerals.
The recently passed financial regulation bill carries new regulations that require US companies to disclose if they use minerals from the Congo. These minerals are common in the manufacture of electrical products such as smart phones, laptops and other digital devices.
Mary Beth Sheridan at the Washington Post reports: U.S. financial reform bill also targets 'conflict minerals' from Congo
The issue of "conflict minerals" was barely mentioned during congressional debate on the Wall Street bill. But it has attracted growing concern from an unlikely alliance of conservatives and liberals -- from Sen. Sam Brownback ((R-Kan.) to feminist Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues." Activists hope to ultimately see an international system for curbing the trade, such as the one that has slowed the sale of "blood diamonds" from West Africa.
"This is one of those issues that is below the radar for about 99.9 percent of Americans. . . . Everyone has their cellphone up against their ear, nobody is thinking of Congo or conflict minerals. But everybody's got some, potentially, right next to their ear," said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), speaking recently at the Center for American Progress.
The minerals are: tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. Manufacturers must label their products that they contain such "conflict minerals." It is up to consumers if they buy such products.
LA Times Editorial:
Publicly traded companies will have to submit annual reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosing whether their products contain minerals from Congo or adjacent countries. If they do, the companies must explain what steps they are taking to trace the origin of those minerals, to determine whether they come from mines that fund armed conflict.
No penalties are imposed, but the disclosure of these steps must be made on the firms' websites. Until now, many tech companies have relied on their suppliers to reject conflict minerals, with few actually checking to see that they do. Now the world will see their true level of commitment.
Some do appear committed: Hewlett-Packard, for example, issued a statement of support for the legislation when it passed.
Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, recently wrote in an email to a customer expressing concern about Apple's use of minerals:
"We require all of our suppliers to certify in writing that they use conflict few materials. But honestly there is no way for them to be sure. Until someone invents a way to chemically trace minerals from the source mine, it’s a very difficult problem."