There’s Blood In Your Mobile Phone, And Death
WE’VE another handwringing documentary coming to screens near us this month. Blood in Your Mobile is all about the appalling mining conditions in Congo
Umm, but hang on, haven’t we already had this? The stuff about coltan, the stuff that makes the tantalum which makes the capacitors in our phones? Why, yes, we have in fact already had this. And in fact there’s been a change in the law: makers of electronics, under the Frank Dodd rules, have to certify that their electronics, the 4 capacitors in them, didn’t come from minerals from conflict areas.
And the processors (of which there are only a handful) have been refusing to buy this “blood coltan” for several years anyway. So, given that we’ve solved that problem, what’s this one about then?
Ah, well, you see there’s another mineral, cassiterite, which is also mined there. Cassiterite is what we use to make tin: it’s what we used to dig up all over Cornwall. So, tin is used to make solder which is used to make electronics so there’s still blood in your mobile.
Except, of course, the ban on conflict minerals extends to tin as well (actually, it’s tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold or, for the ores, coltan, wolframite, cassiterite and well, whatever). And the same thing has happened there: as the law has come into effect purchases from the mine depicted in the film, and surrounding areas, have fallen 90%.
The problem, in one way, has already been solved.
Of course, in another way, it’s not been solved at all. Those who were making a few dollars a day mining tin in appalling conditions are now making no dollars a day doing nothing. You know, starving instead of eating.
Oh, and you know why tin is so expensive, that it’s worth mining it in these very inefficient and brutal conditions? Because we banned lead in solder a few years back. We now have to use all tin instead of only partly tin to make electronics. The reason that children are mining tin in Congo is because the European Union insisted that the price should go up by banning lead in solder.
Image: Men panning for tin on the beach at Porthtowan in Cornwall.