ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Blood on Your Mobile?

The question of establishing a value chain in mobile phones that is free of coltan (a mineral used in capacitors, essential for these phones) is not only one of tracing the path of supply of this mineral. Traceability needs to be backed by measures to support artisanal miners through local facilitation centres and finance, and with steps to establish a credible state, one responsible to its citizens, including the miners.

This note is based on the “Scoping Study” for the study of the raw materials segment of mobile telecommunications as part of the research on economic and social upgrading in global production, under the “Capturing the Gains” research project, funded by DFID and coordinated at the Brooks World Poverty Institute of the University of Manchester.

Coltan constitutes only about 1% of the value of all raw materials contained in mobile phones. But its importance cannot be underestimated. Coltan’s “capacitance property” allows the storage and virtually instantaneous release of electric charge with a minimal loss of power. It is this quality which makes coltan so critical to the mobile phone industry, indeed, to computers and all electronics.

More than 30% of the world’s supply of coltan is mined in the eastern part of the DRC and the Great Lakes region (United States Geo logical Survey 2010: 173), much of it by tens of thousands of artisanal miners, many of whom are children. In the Congo, the mining and marketing of coltan (as well as gold, tin and other minerals) are controlled by both governmentbacked and private military-commercial complexes, involving traders, financiers and armed soldiers (Raeymaeker 2002).

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