Coltan is a metallic ore which is refined into a power that is used in computers. Coltan production doesn’t get much public attention, just the things it helps make possible. John Perkins touched on the subject in his interview on today’s Democracy Now! (losslessly compressed audio, audio, video, transcript). Here’s an excerpt of what Perkins said about the Congo and coltan miner exploitation.
The whole story of Africa and the Congo is such a devastating and sad one. And it’s the hidden story, really. We in the United States don’t even talk about Africa. We don’t think about Africa. You know, Congo has something called coltan, which probably most of your listeners may not have even heard of, but every cell phone and laptop computer has coltan in it. And several million people in the last few years in the Congo have been killed over coltan, because you and I and all of us in the G8 countries demand low — or at least we want to see our computers inexpensive and our cell phones inexpensive. And, of course, the companies that make these sell them on that basis, that “Oh, here, mine’s $200 less than the other company.” But in order to do that, these people in the Congo are being enslaved. The miners, the people mining coltan, they’re being killed. There’s these vast wars going on to provide us with cheap coltan.
And I have to say, you know, if we want to live in a safe world, we need to be — we must be willing, and, in fact, we must demand that we pay higher prices for things like laptop computers and cell phones and that a good share of that money go back to the people who are mining the coltan. And that’s true of oil. It’s true of so many resources that we are not paying the true cost, and there’s millions of people around the world suffering from that. Roughly 50,000 people die every single day from hunger or hunger-related diseases and curable diseases that they don’t get the medicines for, simply because they’re part of a system that demands that they put in long hours, and they get very, very low pay, so we can have things cheaper in this country. And the Congo is an incredibly potent example of that.
It’s unusual for DN! to discuss topics of direct relevance to computer users, but any ethical computer movement will be compelled to more closely examine where we get the inexpensive computers we enjoy today and work to make sure the prices remain higher and the money goes to the workers.