Exhaustion, illness, dangerous and unsanitary working conditions, fear of war lords -- these are the everyday concerns of coltan miners in war-torn countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. While this is reality for a majority of coltan miners around the world, there are now many others who are not subjected to such suffering and actually live a happy, successful life as a result of sustainable mining conditions. In fact, life as a coltan miner can vary drastically based simply on geographic location. On one end of the spectrum you'll find child labor and human rights violations; and on the other end is a satisfying, well-paying and respectful career. So why is there such a gap in the conditions faced by coltan miners in different parts of the world? And what can tantalum suppliers and purchasers do to help maintain the integrity of this growing industry?
As worldwide demand for tantalum has increased, efforts to provide an ethical alternative to columbite-tantalite mined in the DRC have also multiplied. In the current state of the industry, an overwhelming majority of the world's supply of this mineral comes from the DRC, which only fuels the heartbreaking conditions that coltan miners in this country are forced to endure. In response, a new generation of suppliers has taken on the challenge of providing alternative sources of tantalum produced in clean, lawful and ethical conditions. In countries such as Costa Rica and Australia, workers are offered better safety, compensation and overall quality of life than in other controversial locations. With the ability to make an adequate wage while working under safe and ethical conditions, the reality of these workers is a happy, healthy and successful one.
Tantalum extracted from columbite-tantalite is a highly coveted mineral across the globe for one overwhelming reason -- it is used to make capacitators for a wide range of electronic devices, including cell phones, computers and video game systems. Of course, our beloved electronic devices have become an integral part of our lives, and we use them every day; often without a second thought as to the lives of those who play a hand in making them. But now, more than ever, consumers and makers of electronic devices alike have become more conscious of how their purchases affect the environment and their fellow human beings across the globe.
By choosing to do business with suppliers that are committed to providing workers with a fair wage and safe working conditions, electronics companies can send a message to their own customers that they do not advocate human suffering and environmental destruction. If enough companies do the same, the demand for alternative sources of tantalum might someday surpass the demand for that produced in the DRC -- which would be a significant step in improving the lives of all miners.