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Cellphones The Almighty Buck Politics

Conflict Minerals and Cell Phones 136

Posted by Soulskill
from the hit-your-back-button-before-you-feel-like-a-jerk dept.
Presto Vivace sends in this story at Slate: "If you are reading this on a smartphone, then you are probably holding in your palm the conflict minerals that have sent the biggest manufacturing trade group in the U.S. into a court battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission. At stake in this battle between the National Association of Manufacturers and the government is whether consumers will know the potentially blood-soaked origins of the products they use every day and who gets to craft rules for multinational corporations—Congress or the business itself. ... These minerals are tantalum (used in cellphones, DVD players, laptops, hard drives, and gaming devices), tungsten, tin, and gold, if they are mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding countries including Rwanda, where the mineral trade has fueled bloody conflicts. The rule requiring disclosure of conflict minerals will go into effect in 2014. Congress included it in Dodd-Frank out of concern for what is known as the “resource curse”—the phenomenon wherein poor counties with the greatest natural resources end up with the most corrupt and repressive governments. The money earned from selling the natural resources props up these harsh regimes and funds violence against their citizens and neighbors."
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Conflict Minerals and Cell Phones

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  • Oil? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 20, 2013 @04:04PM (#44906745)

    Seems this should apply to oil, as well...

    • It's not just oil - will our new Apple products come with the label: "Designed by Apple in a country which undertakes secret rendition, torture and massive online surveillance and privacy invasion."?
      • by 0123456 (636235)

        It's not just oil - will our new Apple products come with the label: "Designed by Apple in a country which undertakes secret rendition, torture and massive online surveillance and privacy invasion."?

        "And we're not allowed to tell you whether it's spying on you."

        • Don't forget to mention the evils of the country of manufacture; China. All kinds of nastiness there, which might explain why Applle's CEO is anxious about getting manufacturing returned to the (slightly less evil) US for some things.
    • And plastics (Dupont) (Union Carbide from back in the day).

      People of America you are getting bamboozled and ripped off. You could be making these things yourselves in your own small companies and making 100% of the profit. Yet you are a consumer of some megacorp that borders on monopoly and exports all trade and work oversease. These huge companies make and buy the materials for these things for slave labor cost or less.

      If we did it ourselves, it'd be the same cost because it is marked up so much. Yet you w

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Why would I make something myself for $100 plus investment in time and training when I can buy it for $89.95, fully made this second, packaged and on the shelf, made by people (or more likely, machines) better trained than I am, with quality control than I am likely to muster, and a warranty included?

        Seems pretty dumb.

      • . You could be making these things yourselves in your own small companies

        Are you aware that the US is the leading manufacturer in the world?

        • The leading manufacturer of owned assets overseas. How much actually gets made in the USA? Don't BS because the "ledger" goes to some fat ass in wall street.

          Who owns Sony-Erikson and where are their manufacturing facilities?

          • By the way my smoked salmon comes from Thailand imported into California. Seems like it would be cost inefficient to burn all that diesel fuel and run those container ships. When it could be sailed down the coast or shipped overland or by plane from the NW. So its not even just electronics.

        • by fnj (64210)

          Are you aware that the US is the leading manufacturer in the world?

          BULLSHIT. Who's cooking that book? Is that manufacturing going on within the continental US employing US citizens?

        • by Yvanhoe (564877)
          Not anymore [worldbank.org]. 2008 was the last year this was true. And consider that this table only shows the added value in dollars, not any kind of intrinsic value: for $1 you can manufacture more things in China than in US.
    • by jbeaupre (752124)

      The difference being that people are pretty well aware of that. This is intended to bring about the same level of knowing-but-ignoring.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        People are aware that the plastic in there phone came from countries with bloody conflicts, but they are not aware that other materials used in there phone may have a similar origin?
        Low abiding oil companies, free form corruption will be hard to find, even within the US.

    • by mapkinase (958129)

      >blood-soaked origins

      This reeks of exaggeration. We would buy things from Devil and capitalists always did. Whenever I read phrases like "blood-soaked origins" I smell competitors.

  • The US has a longstanding policy of getting involved where it doesn't belong over some natural resources, why not others? We need hard drives and cell phones just as much as we need internal combustion cars... Right?

    • by 0123456 (636235) on Friday September 20, 2013 @04:14PM (#44906829)

      So the history of the 21st century will be America going to war for Apple rather than oil?

      Makes sense.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You mean going to war for Apple instead of Haliburton... or United Fruit... or pick a large company.

        • United Fruit Co. That brings back a historical factoid. In the period 1919 to 1929, the US Marines invaded central and south american countries over 100 times to put down unrest against the company. Things haven't changed much, have they.
    • by pla (258480)
      The US has a longstanding policy of getting involved where it doesn't belong over some natural resources, why not others? We need hard drives and cell phones just as much as we need internal combustion cars... Right?

      The US doesn't have a specific lack of these "conflict minerals" - We simply don't have much in the way of proven reserves because they cost too much to pull out of the ground at current prices while obeying both environmental and labor laws.

      As soon as the price starts to shoot up because C
  • What's the point of these kinds of laws? Just like drugs, these resources will make their way to whomever wants to buy them. Where there's a market, there's a way.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      What's the point of these kinds of laws?

      I suspect the answer will come if you ask yourself: cui bono?

      I doubt it's the poor people in these countries who'll be out of a job when they can't sell materials to America.

      • What happens when, for instance, tantalum from the Congo is banned or subject to forced negative publicity? It's sold to Russia or any of a host of other middlemen, who then sell it to US companies, purified by plausible deniability. Clothes and money aren't the only things that can be laundered.
    • What's the point of these kinds of laws? Just like drugs, these resources will make their way to whomever wants to buy them. Where there's a market, there's a way.

      That might be a problem if they were banning these minerals, but they're not. At most they're discouraging the use of them when they're obtained from certain dubious sources. All of those minerals are available elsewhere in the world though, so at most you'll see a small increase in price. That won't be enough to make it worth most companies while to smuggle them.

      Ultimately what would be nice is if "blood free" sources of some of these minerals could be established in, for example, the Congo. Coltan (for ta

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        That might be a problem if they were banning these minerals, but they're not.

        If slippery slopes weren't a logical fallacy, the next step after compulsory labeling would be the compulsory ban.

      • My experience is decades old, so I may be wrong, but ... Tantalum electrolytics are used where temperatures are too high for aluminum electrolytics, and where relatively high capacitance and relatively low ESR are needed in a small package. High reliability is also a feature, once (explosive) infant mortality is accounted for.
    • 1) To make it absolutely, crystal clear that this is wrong.

      2) To reduce its scope by making it more expensive. Dodging the law incurs some operational costs, and hopefully this means that some customers who don't care about the ethical or the legal angle would be discouraged by higher prices, and go elsewhere.

    • by mvdwege (243851)

      The point is that one party wants to keep this information secret, which is contrary to the idea of a free market.

      It should be up to the customer to decide what products to buy based upon the available information.

  • i can already see this increasing the prices twofold on products.
  • by Nutria (679911) on Friday September 20, 2013 @04:22PM (#44906921)

    Why not also China, where manufacturing props up a violent and corrupt dictatorship? What props up equally -- though differently -- corrupt India? The US is pretty violent too, and corrupt, as is Mexico.

    • That does it! I'm not buying another thing made on this planet ever again.

      • by 32771 (906153)

        No need to worry about the extremes, you could just use stuff at lower rates maybe there is even some sort of optimum somewhere.

        Also once we are through with this planet all the concentrated stuff will be spread out and the energy we will be willing to expend to process a mineral at a certain concentration will be less than is required. Then we will find something new (then we are not though with this planet and we can increase the future maximum possible moral outrage) or we are screwed (then we have achie

        • Also once we are through with this planet all the concentrated stuff will be spread out

          There might be more rare minerals per volume in a first-world landfill than in a natural deposit, especially for things like gold.

    • We need only look in a mirror to find a violent and corrupt democracy.

      One mountain at a time, as they say. First you fix what you can to prevent wholesale slaughter, rape, and pillage. Then you move on to the retail, bought and sold kind.

      You can make choices, based on the information. Who's doing a better job of dictatorships? Vote them out with your monetary choices.

      • Who's doing a better job of dictatorships? Vote them out with your monetary choices

        <sarcasm> That's working really well in the case of North Korea. </sarcasm>

    • OH MY GOSH I just realized that the history of humanity is one of violence, corruption, and death!

      I wouldnt put China quite on the level of Rwanda, however.

      • I wouldnt put China quite on the level of Rwanda, however.

        Why not?

        More Chinese have been killed by their government in the last 100 years than Rwandans by their government over the same timespan.

        • And more Jews were killed in Germany in the past 100 years than in Rwanda. Fortunately, we arent stuck in the 40s, or the 60s, or the 80s. We're in 2013, and the current Chinese government, as bad as they are, arent quite on par with Rwanda,.

  • Resource Curse? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Friday September 20, 2013 @04:23PM (#44906943) Homepage Journal

    “resource curse”—the phenomenon wherein poor counties with the greatest natural resources end up with the most corrupt and repressive governments.

    My ass - that shit is engineered by the people and groups who stand to profit from preventing those people from taking ownership of their national resources.

    The De Beers artificial diamond shortages [wikipedia.org] being a prime example.

    • The whole statement is ridiculous doublethink. "Poor countries with the greatest natural resources"? In Burkina Faso, you can get gold by sifting tiny, tiny flecks out of dirt. That's not super-rich great natural resources; there's gold in the dirt and it takes a ridiculous amount of effort to get to it, so that's essentially "resource poor".

      If these countries had great natural resources, they would be rich as living fuck. Don't tell me that ubiquitous presence of trace elements means "great natural

      • Burkina Faso is not the only poor country. For example, think Nigeria with all its oil.

      • Natural resources have no influence on poverty in countries like Nigeria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and many others. They have a lack of control over their resources. Or, to put it a bit more in perspective, a few corrupt bastards have control over all of the resources. The have so far successfully managed to keep the rest of the people either not unsatisfied enough to tolerate this, or oppressed them successful enough to still be in control. It's in the best interest of "western" countries to keep this statu
        • These are not poor countries. "Poor countries with the greatest natural resources wind up with the most corrupt regimes" implies that the country started poor and gained an evil tyrant, not that it's poor because of the evil tyrant.
    • Re:Resource Curse? (Score:5, Informative)

      by OzPeter (195038) on Friday September 20, 2013 @04:36PM (#44907101)
  • Conflict Diamonds (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Somehow I expect this is like conflict diamonds. In a war, it's hard for De Beers to keep a strangle hold on diamond mining, so they start a PR campaign against free market diamonds. I wouldn't be surprised if the interests driving this are economic not social welfare.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Assuming this is the same situation, is there any way I can confirm that my cell phone's components were once soaked in the blood of tyrants? I'd toss in an extra $50 (once, not on the monthly bill) for some sort of proof of that.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The reality is that most people don't give a shit. Oh they say they do but they truly don't. They like the idea of being guilt free but when it comes right down to it, they won't vote with their wallets.

    This is comparable to the "buy local" campaigns you see at grocery stores in the US. People say they want to but then when it winds up being significantly more expensive, they opt for the cheaper products rather than local. They tell themselves "next time" to appease their conscience.

    A law declaring the

  • And yet Nestlé comes in, sucks up all your fresh sources of water and we barely hear about it.
    http://www.bottledlifefilm.com/ [bottledlifefilm.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Oh wait, it's not a conflict when the US does it ... duh!
  • by 32771 (906153) on Friday September 20, 2013 @04:36PM (#44907099) Journal

    Nowadays there are MLCCs at 220uF that could replace Tantalum in a number of applications, not to mention Niobium based capacitors that derive their raw materials from Brasil and Canada.

  • considering how many people have died in the name of spreading "democracy" and protecting oil interests... Pot Kettle....

  • by dcooper_db9 (1044858) on Friday September 20, 2013 @04:54PM (#44907301)

    This isn't about naturally rare minerals, it's about the one mineral that's rare by design. This is the latest in a long history of disinformation campaigns intended to keep DeBeers' control of the diamond. In fact, diamonds are so common in nature that there are beaches in Africa where they wash up on shore. You could pick them up like seashells if it weren't for the armed guards ready and willing to shoot anyone who tries. If DeBeers ever lost control of the market the value of diamonds would plumet.

    When General Electric developed the first artificial diamond DeBeers bought the company. When Israel threatened to dump their cache on the market, DeBeers practically bought the country. They spent billions buying artificial diamonds from the Soviets, just to keep them off the market. In the US, when DeBeers was investigated for antitrust violations they put every employee in their country on a plane and sent them back to Europe. In one night. The next day there was a new person in every US job, and not one of those people could testify about how DeBeers operates. If you ever want to have your life turned upside down, try buying and selling used diamonds. See just how long it takes for DeBeers to shut you down.

    DeBeers modus operandi is to back whoever controls a country, as long as they are willing to do business. If not, DeBeers will back a coup. So, if you want to control an African country, step 1 is to gain control over the diamonds. If you want to get rich, step 1 is to take over a country. THAT is why there's so much violence in Africa. The regime that labels "conflict" minerals is just one of the tools DeBeers uses to maintain control. The "conflict" countries are places where more than one group operates. Whatever group is on the outside will smuggle diamonds out, undermining price controls.

    The history of the DeBeers cartel is the most fascinating and disturbing story that's rarely told. If you haven't read it I strongly recommend a trip to the local library. Don't wait for Hollywood to tell the story. They're too busy writing a sequel to "Blood Diamonds". On contract of course. The sad truth is that EVERY diamond is a blood diamond.

    • by 32771 (906153)

      Personally I blame stupid women and needy men on this, all sensible and industrial needs are fulfilled with artificial diamonds. The problem is diamonds are not really the issue we are talking about. It is first and foremost energy and concentration of minerals and their availability. If the concentration of ores in unstable regions lowers enough that stable regions are becoming competitive again (hmm, why would that be?) things will change.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      20 seconds and Google make it patently obvious DeBeers isn't in the business of going after people buying and selling used diamonds. As would a drive through nearly any bad section of any decent sized American city that is full of pawn shops that will happily purchase your used diamond jewelry for pennies on the dollar.

    • When Israel threatened to dump their cache on the market, DeBeers practically bought the country.

      Funny, the last three conspiracy theories I read online where about a cabal of Jews controlling the markets, not a cabal of monopolists controlling the Jews...

      • You make a valid point. In reviewing what I wrote I made a very broad statement that appears to reinforce anti-Israeli conspiracy theories. I actually regard the incident as a brilliant geopolitical manuever by the leaders of the young state of Israel. It's been many years since I studied the history of the cartel and my recollection of details isn't great. Without books on hand I'll do my best to recall what took place.

        In the early days of modern Israel, many people had expertise in working with diamon

  • How about Blood Labor?
  • Oil is highly correlated with terrorism, non-functional government, and massive subsidies.

    Diamonds are highly correlated with even more problems.

    So, just download iOS7 instead of buying the iPhone 5s, and wait until the iPhone 6 comes out.

  • fairphone (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is perhaps the right place to plug the Fairphone ( www.fairphone.com ), an experiment in making electronic products free from conflict minerals and exploitation of workers. It's not a commercial phone manufacturer (they're only making 25.000, at least to start with), it's more a proof of concept and they seem to be pulling it off. Obviously it's relatively easy to source non-conflict minerals when you're only making 25.000 units, not so easy to scale that up under current conditions.

    But if every manufa

  • Tantalum Capacitors (Score:4, Informative)

    by residents_parking (1026556) on Friday September 20, 2013 @05:26PM (#44907617)

    Since ceramic got so good, I haven't needed to specify Tantalum in any of my designs for 5 or more years. In my experience, it is mostly inertia / laziness that keeps designers from exploring alternatives.

    Like most engineers, I enjoy the challenge when someone says "you have to use tantalum - nothing else will work". True, Y5V Ceramic has highly voltage-dependent capacitance. So what? Often it's ESR and not absolute capacitance you need, anyway.

    • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Friday September 20, 2013 @06:39PM (#44908157)

      If you need better stability than Y5V, but still need high values in a reasonable size, X5R is good. I haven't used tantalum in 10 years. For electrolytics I find solid electrolyte aluminums are fine for most stuff, and can always be shunted with a ceramic if need be. I've even used these kinds of parts in military designs.

      • by mirix (1649853)

        Yeah, most anything that ends in R is good. Things ending in V should be illegal to sell as they do. (and others.. one of P or U, I forget which is worse)

        Y5V for example. At 40% of rated voltage it is down to only 20% of it's nameplate capacitance. If the temperature is above 60C, it loses another 50% on top of it.

        So a "16V 100uF" Y5V capacitor, running at 6.5V and 60C, is down to 10uF. What a joke.

  • Tarring and feathering remote manufacturers, by stories like this, ensure that they will do their utmost to avoid sourcing any minerals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is the common reaction, perfectly sensible for any business, and it is actually happening. For a private manufacturing company, without government investigative powers or private armies of their own, to operate safely in that incredibly corrupt, violent country and discover which mine and which trader has not "supported" an arme
  • As a student of international relations and ardent environmentalist in the 80s, we saw then what would be labelled the curse of natural resources. But we have also grown to recognize what promotes positive social development in developing/emerging markets. Fixers, tinkerers, repairpeople, recyclers and geeks. The history of Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan - all resource poor nations - is a history of repairs, knock offs, reverse-engineering, and recycling, serving what Harvard Business Review a

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