The role of mining and conflict minerals in electronics production

Every smartphone contains about 40 different minerals, including tantalum, tungsten, copper, iron, nickel, aluminum, tin, silver, chromium, gold and palladium.

Each performs a different role that is essential to the functionality of the phone. For example, tungsten is used in the vibration mechanism and tantalum is often used to make the capacitors smaller.

All these minerals and metals originally enter the supply chain from the mining sector – a challenging industry in terms of sustainability. From pollution and extremely dangerous working conditions to child labor, a number of mining-related practices desperately require improvement. In recent years, in part due to the Dodd Frank Act in the US, conflict minerals have taken center stage in the quest to improve accountability in the mining sector. Conflict minerals fund rebel groups, contributing to political and economic instability while neglecting workers’ rights, safety and their ability to earn fair wages.

Passed in 2010, the Dodd Frank Act addresses tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold (3Ts and G) sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and surrounding high-risk areas. At Fairphone, we want to focus on sourcing conflict-free minerals, which is why we’re going straight to the conflict zone: the DRC. While conflict-free minerals are certainly available from other countries, our goal is to work directly where we can contribute to alternatives to current mining practices, empowering workers and improving the livelihoods of the local population. We want to become a vehicle for change in the regions that need it most.

Our mining projects

Gold

Identifying fairer, more transparent sources of gold

Gold is a precious metal that is used for efficiently conducting electricity within mobile phones. It is applied to components like the printed circuit board using a process called ‘electroplating’. These components are dipped into a large bath containing a liquid gold solution to coat the copper connections with gold. (…)

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Tungsten

Promoting conflict-free tungsten exports from Rwanda

With a very high melting point, high density, and hardness comparable to diamonds, tungsten is an essential ingredient in many industrial applications. In smartphones, tungsten is used in the vibration motor – the mechanism that makes your phone buzz when you receive calls or messages. It is also found in many of the tools that are used to manufacture smartphones, (…)

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Tin

Conflict-free tin from the Democratic Republic of Congo

In smartphones, tin is primarily used in the soldering paste on circuit boards with which components are soldered to the circuit boards. Tin is extracted from an ore called cassiterite, which is mined extensively in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Cassiterite deposits in the eastern parts of the DRC have contributed to country’s ongoing conflict, (…)

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Tantalum

Sourcing conflict-free tantalum with Solutions for Hope

Tantalum is extracted from a tar-like mineral called columbite-tantalite, otherwise known as coltan. In smartphones, tantalum is used to make capacitors – a source of energy in printed circuit boards. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) possesses 80 percent of the world’s coltan supply. Many of the mines there have been controlled by rebels who extort money from the miners, (…)

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