Conflict minerals

There will be blood: The corporate race for minerals

July 12, 2012: 10:07 AM ET

Updated: July 13, 2:37 p.m.

To avert a crisis, more companies need to determine where their minerals are coming from before they are caught with blood on their hands.

By Mickey North Rizza

FORTUNE -- Blood diamonds are the face of human rights challenges in Africa, but the sourcing of lesser-known natural resources, known as "blood" or "conflict" minerals, continues to fuel civil wars in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. Armed gangs are continuously fighting for control of the mines that harbor these minerals, leading to murder, rape, and forced labor.

Blood minerals -- including tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold among others -- are used in automobiles, medical devices, and a multitude of high-tech items. Consumers use these minerals every day in their smartphones, MP3 players, and laptops.

Some of the least stable nations in Africa lay claim to significant stores of these minerals. Take tin, for example, which is used for solder on circuit boards. The DRC produces 6-8% of the world's production, according to a 2010 report from Supply and Demand Chain Executive, a trade publication. And tantalum capacitors are in most electronic equipment, with the DRC considered the world's leading producer. Tungsten is used for milling and is also responsible for the "vibrate" feature in cell phones; the DRC provides 2-4% of the world's output. Gold is utilized in jewelry and most electronic equipment, with the DRC providing less than 1%.

MORE: J.P. Morgan's hunt for Afghan gold

While these amounts from the DRC appear small in terms of percentages, the issue is the amount of money the minerals have given to the armed groups per year; estimates vary but range from $135 million to almost $200 million in total annually.

And it's not like it's a simple matter of switching to domestic sources for these minerals. The U.S.has not had any significant production of tantalum since 1959; tin has not been mined or smelted in the U.S.since 1993 and 1989, respectively. As of 2011, there was just one tungsten mine in California.  Gold, a U.S.backed resource since the gold rush, has a bit more representation, but only many small mines exist in Alaska and the western states. More

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