Did Buying Your Gaming Console Help Fund War Atrocities In The Congo?

Do you own a video game console? Then you might have more to do with the bloody, brutal war in the Congo then you realise.

While the availability of blood diamonds, those rare minerals mined in war zones and sold to build armies, has begun to dwindle under international scrutiny, a new set of conflict minerals is rising to take its place.

Minerals like tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, some of which are found in an array of electronics including video game consoles, are being mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and used to fuel what has become the deadliest conflict since World War II.

I was reminded of this by an excellent Op-Ed piece by New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof this weekend. In Death by Gadget he talks about his own experiences reporting on the Congo's barbaric war and why electronics companies need to take more responsibility for where they get their supplies.

The link between gaming consoles and these blood minerals are so close that some refer to the decades-long conflict in Congo as the Playstation War.

As with blood diamonds, a number of international activist groups are asking companies to track where the minerals they buy come from to ensure it's not the Congo. While most of these companies seem to get that buying Congolese conflict minerals is a bad thing, not all of them do much to ensure they don't.

We contacted Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony to get their current thinking on conflict minerals and what they do to avoid using them in the DS, Playstation 3, Playstation Portable, Wii and Xbox 360.

While all three companies have been repeatedly singled-out by activists for their use of conflict minerals, only Microsoft responded to our request, saying that a "conflict mineral free supply chain is a priority" for the company.

"A conflict mineral free supply chain is a priority for us in our supply chain management policies and practices," according to the statement provided to Kotaku by Microsoft. "Unfortunately, it's very hard to reliably trace metals to mine of origin and verify that they are conflict mineral free. We are working with our industry partners, specifically the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, to develop solutions that better monitor and incent the local mining companies, suppliers and governments to help drive responsible business practices."

Earlier this year, Nintendo did respond to Raise Hope for Congo about the issue, sort of dodging the question by telling the group that the company doesn't purchase any raw minerals themselves.

"On behalf of Nintendo I appreciate the opportunity to respond and thank you for your patience. Nintendo does not purchase any metals as raw materials. As a remote purchaser that buys finished components made from many materials, Nintendo requires its suppliers to comply with its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Procurement Guidelines, which stipulate suppliers comply with applicable laws, have respect for human rights and conduct their business in an appropriate and fair manner."

Sony, the company behind the console most closely tied to the Congo war by activists, has not yet provided a statement. When they do we will update this article.

While corporate responsibility is important in global issues like this, not everyone is convinced that the best way to deal with conflict minerals is to ban them. Others argue that legitimatising the mining of these minerals in conflict areas will help to bring stability to the area.

Your take on these issues as a gamer is, of course important. The biggest impact on the blood diamond trade likely came from the decision some consumers made to not buy those diamonds. Would you ever make the same decision about a "blood console"?

Image: GOMA, DR CONGO: Congolese army soldiers sit with their weapons on the frontline on November 09, 2008 just outside the town of Goma, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over 250,000 people have been displaced after fighting erupted between the rebel CNDP and the army in the last several weeks.(Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)


    I would doubt if you could reliably get as little as 1% of console purchasers/users regardless of age or location, that would investigate this issue before purchase and have it affect where their money goes. They are simply too far removed from it, and there is too little choice to enable this sort of decision making.

    The vast distance between consumer and source is a problem in a lot of areas. I think you're right about that Kato. Similar issues involve food, where people buy a 'cheap egg' not realising why its cheap because the real cost is hidden away in the factory farms.

      I'm just grateful that there is at least some push for advertising the more humane alternatives. Free range eggs, products that don't use palm oil, etc.

    If you gave me the option of buying an electronic item that was 'blood free' per say, i would buy that. But the problem is that people have no idea where the materials in their electronic devices have come from.

    Perhaps the solution should not be purchasing, but effective 3rd party intervention.

    This is even more disconnected from the end user than the foxconn suicide issue. Consoles are commissioned by say Sony who give manufacturing contracts to foxconn (who have a delay whilst they employ another few thousand replacement workers after 'suicide saturday') who buy the components from bulk manufacturers who buy the minerals to make the components from the vendors who buy them from sources that may or may not be dodgy.

    In the house that jack built.

    What nefarious history is behind your car radio, your birdcage or your deodorant?

    I drank a glass of milk yesterday, what if that milk came from a cow owned by a man who bought cow off a woman who used to go out with the guy who was the son of the russian immigrant who used to be friends with a guy who went to school with the guy who teased Stalin? My god I could be responsible for the entire cold war!!!

    Seriously if I walk into an electronic store and ask where the tin in this roll of solder I'm buying came from. Nobody is going to know. Heck the kid behind the counter won't even know that Tin is a component of solder.

    It's like a 19 year old girl, trying to sell me a power drill in Bunnings she doesn't know anything about them other than what the box said.

    Note this is nothing to do with women not knowing about tools but more about Bunnings employee's not knowing about what they are trying to sell you. Also there seem to be more teenage girls in a Bunnings on the weekend

    Still I would prefer to own stuff that is cruelty free, humanely built and sourced, and fair trade approved. But at the end of the day the Meat you buy in Coles/Woolies is anything but fair trade.

    And finding out this information is next to impossible, seriously if I sent an E-Mail to Sony and asked did they use conflict minerals in the construction of the PS3/PSP/TV/Stereo I was about to buy would I get even get an Answer?

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