Venezuela conflict mineral may be in smart phones and other high-tech products, new investigation says

Apple sold 37 million iPhones over the holiday quarter, bringing the total number of devices sold since they went on sale in 2007 to 183 million.


Feng Li

Consumer demand for iPhones and other high-tech products could be supporting organized crime in South America. In a new investigation, The Center for Public Integrity found that black-market coltan from Venezuela continues to be mined and sold. Because the industry remains unregulated, the conflict mineral is likely making its way into United States' electronic products. 

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“Venezuela could emerge as a big problem because it represents another source of conflict coltan, coming from an area where there is no regulation, no transparency and no security for the people working in the mines,” a Washington, DC-based analyst told The Center for Public Integrity.  

Coltan is controversial because the valuable mineral fuels bloody conflicts across the globe. The Suit reported in 2010 that electronic sales are also fueling coltan mining in the Congo.

And the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting said that 80 percent of the world's coltan comes from the Eastern Congo, and is contributing to a bloody civil war there that has claimed over 4 million lives.

The Center for Public Integrity found that the South American coltan trade is problematic in many ways that are similar to the African trade: "As in Central Africa, illicit South American coltan is relabeled and sent to legitimate smelters who feed high-tech manufacturers around the world," The Center said. Unlike other conflict minerals, such as conflict diamonds, there is still no way to test coltan to see where it came from. 

“Artisanal mining tends to be hazardous for laborers, with tough and unsafe conditions, poor pay and likely environmental damage as waste is discarded into streams,” a coltan researcher told The Center.  

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