AMSTERDAM - Dutch labour MP Martijn van Dam has asked the world's major cellphone manufacturers to stop using the Congolese mineral coltan - to stop child-slavery.
The rare columbium-tantalite ore - widely used in electronics -- is found in the Eastern Congo and a small region of Tanzania - and nowhere else. An estimated 2-million child-slaves work from sunrise to sunset to dig coltan by hand from the soil - and it is traded on the black market for US $400 a pound.
In the battles for control over the fabulous wealth of the coltan mines between various warlord-ruled militias, untold misery is being caused - it created most of the warfare and genocidal violence, and also created this terrifying culture of child-slavery.
The Dutch parliamentarian handed a petition with 740 signatures from his parliamentary co-ruling coalition supporters in The Netherlands. The battle for control over the coltan mines has been the source of armed conflict in the Congo for years, he said. "The income is used to enrich warlords, buy weapons and pay militias,' he pointed out. The manufacturers were asked to react within two weeks.
Every day hundreds of thousands of Congolese child-slaves are forced to crawl into underground mines on their hands and knees to dig for the essential raw material make electronic gadgets like cell phones, iPods, laptop computers, play stations, wireless systems, DVD players, blackberries and pagers possible.These hi-tech toys use capacitors made from coltan. The children work from sunrise to after dark digging with their hands into the earth to remove the raw material.
In 2006, the U.S. Department of Labour listed Congo as the country with "The Worst Forms of Child Labor." And in October 2007, the U.S. Government announced it would donate US$16 million through the Save the Children Foundation to Congo, Togo and Uganda, to help purge child labour.
Van Dam and his Dutch colleagues believe that if manufacturers of electronics stopped using coltan, this vile trade would end. He said the petition was sent to Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, LG, Motorola, Apple, HTC, Blackberry, Palm and Siemens. Response from these multinationals is being awaited.