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12/20/2011

Who died to get you your smartphone?

Are you sure you know where all the stuff inside that new toy in your stocking comes from? People understand the concept of blood diamonds, but what about blood gold, tin and tungsten? If human activist groups are right, people are dying so that we can enjoy our smartphones and tablet computers.

Human rights activists are raising concerns over 'conflict metals' - minerals used to produce electronics, that come from contested areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Any country that has to use 'Democratic' in its name to get the point across generally isn't. Areas of the Congo, which recently held a contested election with allegations of fraud, are beset by armed militia groups. US National Public Radio has found that the groups are funded by the mining of rare metals that often find their way into our electronic products.

"These minerals are coming from the most conflicted area in the world, where women are raped by the thousands, where men are held in slavery and humiliated by having their wives raped in front of them," US Representative Jim McDermott told NPR. "All of this mayhem is the basis for the mining of tin, tungsten and tantalum, which are elements that are essential for the creation of a Blackberry."

That's a bit worrying, and might take some of the shine off your new iPad or Playbook. The problem is that at the moment, it is difficult to know which companies and products are using conflict metals. A law signed by President Barack Obama last year calls for companies to report where they are sourcing their minerals from, and which products they found their way into. This doesn't mean that they have to stop using them - it just means that they have to tell us.

The Enough Project - an advocacy group for human rights in the Congo - published a report a year ago detailing the progress that companies had made towards auditing where their minerals came from. Our own RIM ranked seventh out of 21 companies.

Congolese human rights activist Delly Mawazo Sesete has launched a petition focusing on Apple (which ranked ninth in the table last year) to produce a conflict metal-free product.

The petition is here. The comments written by people who signed are thought-provoking, and heartfelt. I particularly liked one commentator's point. "We are all connected," she said. With five days to go until Christmas, the time of compassion and love towards others on the planet, it might be worth thinking about that when we stroll through the doors of Future Shop or Best Buy.

Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets

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Danny BradburyDanny Bradbury

Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with 20 years' experience. He writes regularly for publications including the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Financial Post, and Backbone magazine. Danny also writes and directs documentaries.

Maurice CachoMaurice Cacho

Maurice Cacho is a Toronto-based journalist mixing his love for tech with a passion for news. He's also CP24's Web Journalist and appears daily on CP24 Breakfast and weekly on the channel's tech show, Webnation, discussing tech news and trends.

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