Do you own a video game console? Then you might have more to do with the bloody, brutal war in the Congo than you realize.
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 legitimatizing 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)