Coltan smuggling has also been implicated as a major source of income for the military occupation of Congo. An activist website, Toward Freedom, states that the search for coltan has fueled a brutal conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo; they state that demand for coltan has caused Rwandan military groups and western mining companies to seek hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the rare metal, often by forcing prisoners-of-war and even children to work in the country's coltan mines.
To many, this raises ethical questions akin to those of conflict diamonds. Owing to the difficulty of distinguishing legitimate from illegitimate mining operations, several electronics manufacturers have decided to forgo central African coltan altogether, relying on other sources. The high-tech industry's demand for tantalum clearly has fueled an increase in coltan mining worldwide – including in the Congo region.
Toward Freedom states that the 2000 launch of the Sony PS2 required a large increase in production of electric capacitors, which are primarily made with tantalum, which greatly increased the world price of the powder from $49/pound to a $275/pound, resulting in accelerated mining of the Congolese hills containing coltan. Sales in computers, mobile phones, and DVD players spiked around this same time. Sony claims it has discontinued its use of tantalum acquired from the Congo, and sourced it from a variety of mines in several different countries. Researcher David Barouski states “The coltan ore trades hands so many times from when it is mined to when SONY gets a processed product, that a company often has no idea where the original coltan ore came from, and frankly don't care to know. But statistical analysis shows it to be nearly inconceivable that SONY made all its PlayStations without using Congolese coltan."
All three countries named by the United Nations as smugglers of coltan have denied being involved. Austrian journalist Klaus Werner has documented links between multi-national companies like Bayer and the illegal coltan traffic. Likewise has Johann Hari written on the connections between coltan resources and the genocide in Congo. A United Nations committee investigating the plunder of gems and minerals in the Congo listed in its final report approximately 125 companies and individuals involved in business activities breaching international norms. Companies accused of irresponsible corporate behavior are for example Cabot Corporation, Eagle Wings Resources International, George Forrest Group and OM Group.
The Tantalum-Niobium International Study Centre in Belgium, a country with traditionally close links to the Congo, has encouraged international buyers to avoid Congolese coltan on ethical grounds:
"The central African countries of Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda and their neighbours used to be the source of significant tonnages. But civil war, plundering of national parks and exporting of minerals, diamonds and other natural resources to provide funding of militias has caused the Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center to call on its members to take care in obtaining their raw materials from lawful sources. Harm, or the threat of harm, to local people, wildlife or the environment is unacceptable.
For economic rather than ethical reasons, a shift is also being seen from traditional sources such as Australia, towards new suppliers such as Egypt. This may have been brought about by the bankruptcy of the world's biggest supplier, Australia's Sons of Gwalia, although the company continues to produce and export ore.
Last call for the wild; Rare gorillas are being butchered as a lucrative demand for coltan - a metal vital for mobile phones - is mined in Africa. Trevor Grundy reports on a fight for survival
Aug 05, 2001; THE arrest in Belgium of a Rwandan official accused of masterminding the murder of Dian Fossey, the American zoologist made...