Blood in the Mobile


“Blood in the Mobile” is the story about how our phones are connected to illegal mining in Congo (DRC). Every time we communicate through our cell phones we are associated with the crimes in Congo.
Congo is a country of many natural resources like gold, diamonds, rubber, coltan and cassiterite. But instead of causing Congo wealth, these resources have ended up fuelling the bloodiest war since WWII. 5 million people have died, estimated 300.000 women have been raped.
The film focuses on the mineral cassiterite - a mineral used for producing tin, which is used for the production of all kinds of electronic devices - including mobile phones.
Director Frank Piasecki Poulsen visits a mine in Bisie. Bisie is one of the largest and most notorious illegal mines in the region. It happens frequently that some of the mineshafts collapse and miners are being buried alive.
Child labor, prostitution of under age girls and lack of rights and protection of miners are some of the conditions around the mining operations of cassiterite. The money from the minerals is financing the war in the region.

In 2008 two reports from a UN Group of Experts has established that:

• ”There is a direct causal link between the metals trade in eastern DRC and atrocities perpetrated by armed groups against Congolese civilians”.
• All of the main armed groups involved in the current fighting in eastern DRC finance themselves through the trade in high-value minerals.
• These minerals are processed into metals such as tin (cassiterite) and tantalum (coltan), which are used in the manufacture of mobile phones.

(Source: The UN Group of Experts (December 2008), and the UN Group of Experts S/2008/43 (February 2008))


The journey of a conflict mineral begins at one of eastern Congo’s many mines. 13 major mines have been identified and approximately 200 total mines in the region. Many geologists and companies believe that there may be a much greater abundance of minerals below the surface in eastern Congo, but decades of war have precluded large-scale geological exploration.
Of the 13 major mines identified in eastern Congo. 12 are currently controlled by armed groups. Some of the mines are controlled by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR - a Rwandan militia led by organizers of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Other mines are managed by the Congolese army as a means of personal enrichment - a flagrant violation of Congo’s mining laws, which prohibit the presence of the army in the mines. The soldiers, many of whom were militia fighters who only just recently integrated into the army, illegally “tax” miners, abuse the population - particularly the women and girls- and pay workers very poor wages. Armed groups and military units is said to control of over 50 percent of the 200 total mines in eastern Congo.
The average wage for a miner is between $1 and $5 a day. The mines are also filled with child laborers between the ages of 10 and 16, now missing out on precious years of school.

From the mines, the minerals get transported to trading towns and then on to the two major cities in the region, Bukavu and Goma. The minerals are then sorted by trading houses called “maisons d’achat,” which process the minerals. The majority of these traders are paid in advance by the exporters to whom they sell the minerals.
The majority of the transporters and trading houses currently operate in violation of Congo’s mining laws without proper licenses and registration. Part of the problem is that the government charges $500 for licenses, which is a prohibitively high price to pay. Only one in ten transporters in Bukavu were officially registered with the government, meaning that 90 percent operate illegally. There are approximately 100 trading houses each in Bukavu and Goma.
It is actually fairly straightforward to tell from where the minerals originate because each sack of minerals in the trading house have different coloration and texture, depending on which mine it came from.
But it is a dangerous business to provide transparency to this trade. Armed groups control much of the transport from the mine to the buying house. They either take a large percentage of the profit from transporters (up to $40 per sack) or they transport the minerals themselves. According to estimates, the armed groups generated approximately $75 million from mineral transport last year, out of the total of $180 million earned by armed groups from the mineral trade.

Export companies then buy minerals from the trading houses and transporters, process the minerals using machinery, and then sell them to foreign buyers. These companies are required to register with the government, and there are currently 17 exporters based in Bukavu and 24 based in Goma. Just as the exporters provide financing to their suppliers, the majority of them are paid in advance for their minerals by international traders from Belgium, Malaysia, and other foreign countries.
In 2008, the U.N.-appointed experts tasked with monitoring the links between natural resources and conflict in eastern Congo identified several major exporters as actively purchasing minerals from mines controlled by the FDLR and other armed groups. Although the associations of exporters in both North and South Kivu have denied these accusations and insist that they only purchase minerals through legal channels, there are many loopholes that still allow conflict minerals to enter into the supply chain at this state.
At present, the only system that the exporters use to avoid buying conflict minerals is verbal assurance: they simply ask, “Did you get this from a conflict area?” If the seller says no, without providing any proof of where the minerals came from, then the exporter goes ahead with the purchase.

From the exporter the minerals are sent mainly by road, boat, or plane to the neighboring countries of Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. Some minerals are legally exported, with taxes paid to the Congolese government, while others are smuggled across Congo’s porous borders. Either way, conflict minerals form a major portion of the trade.
Vast inconsistencies in the statistics recorded by neighboring countries attest to the scale of the smuggling, as minerals from Congo are labeled as having originated in Uganda, Rwanda, or Burundi. For example, Rwanda produced $8 million worth of tin ore but officially exported at least $30 million of tin.
Congolese sellers either working independently or sent by the exporting companies work with buying houses and companies in Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi. In Uganda and Burundi, these shops are unmarked houses. In Rwanda, buying companies mix Congolese minerals with those produced by Rwandan mines. In all three countries, the companies’ proprietors rarely ask questions about where the minerals come from.
In Uganda and Burundi, buying shops also work closely with officers in the security services—the army and police of the country—so that their investments are “protected.” Military officers receive cuts from this trade, and use their security connections to keep business flowing smoothly. This climate of repression and the real threat of violence is enough to dissuade most whistleblowers. Some of these traders have been put on United Nations sanctions lists for trading in conflict minerals, so they maintain underground profiles to avoid the spotlight and further sanctions.
There is nothing inherently wrong with neighboring countries importing and exporting Congolese minerals, but given the history of regional governments direct involvement in the illicit minerals trade, linkages between these governments and business and military elites who dominate the trade, and the continuing lack of transparency and due diligence on the part of these governments, much greater scrutiny of this step in the trade is necessary. These countries should insist that verifiable documentation accompanies the minerals, documenting the chain of custody to ensure that they are conflict free, and that they have been legally taxed by the Congolese authorities. Moreover, they need to start holding smugglers to account. The government of Rwanda has recently started a program to certify the origin of much of Rwanda’s domestic mineral production. This is a step in the right direction and full implementation of this policy by all minerals companies in the country, as well as in Uganda and Burundi, should be encouraged.

In order for the minerals to be sold on the world market, they have to be refined into metals by metal processing companies. These companies, based mainly in East Asia, take the Congolese minerals and smelt or chemically process them together with metals from other countries in large furnaces.
For casseterite (tin), the most lucrative conflict mineral in eastern Congo last year, 10 main smelting companies process over 80 percent of the world’s tin, almost all of which are based in East Asia.
When it comes to tracing supply chains back to their sources, refiners are the critical link. After the mineral ore is refined into metal, it becomes impossible to distinguish tin or tantalum that originated in Congo from other sources, and supplies from all over the globe are mixed together at this step in the chain. This is why it is essential that these companies take pains to document where they are sourcing from and make their records subject to independent audits.

Finally, the refiners sell Congo’s minerals onto the electronics companies. The electronics industry is the single largest consumer of the minerals from eastern Congo. The now-processed metals usually go through a few sub-stages here - first to circuit board and computer chip manufacturers, then to cell phone and other electronics manufacturers, and finally to the mainstream electronics companies such as Nokia, Intel, Apple, Hewlett Packard, Nintendo, etc. These companies then make the products that we all know and buy - cell phones, portable music players, video games, and laptop computers. Because companies do not currently have a system to trace, audit, and certify where their materials come from, all cell phones and laptops may contain conflict minerals from Congo.
(Source: Raise Hope for Congo)

Raise Hope for Congo - Ressources
Raise Hope for Congo - Take Action
Photographer Mark Craemer
Global Witness: London based NGO
Global Witness: Documents regarding Eastern parts of Congo (DRC)
Make IT Fair: Dutch based NGO
Read more about Cassiterite at Wikipedia
Read more about Bisie at Wikipedia