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Ending conflict-zone electronics materials

February 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
The movie "Blood Diamond" brought to light the controversy surrounding the gem and gold trade in conflict areas of Africa. There could also be a deadly secret behind electronics you own.

This story is graphic and disturbing.

Children working in slave-like conditions are caught on camera by the human rights group Enough Project. According to these activists, the kids, as young as 10 years old, are forced to mine minerals in conflict areas of eastern Congo.

It's dangerous. There are no rules, no regulations. Mine-shaft collapses and children dying are common, says activist Sasha Lezhnev, who took exclusive video.

"It really is shocking when you go out to eastern Congo to see the mines," said Lezhnev.

They're not mining for diamonds. Kids and adults are harvesting tin, tantalum and tungsten, critical components in cell phones, computers and laptops.

According to advocacy groups, the profits from this high-demand metal trade include hundreds of millions of dollars going straight to warlords and armed militia groups in Congo, who fight over the mineral-rich land.

"In order to control the mineral resources, they have been waging campaigns of violence against the surrounding communities, committing atrocities that most of us cannot even imagine," said Sadia Hameed, campaign manager of Raise Hope for Congo.

Former Congo resident Leontine Lanza doesn't have to imagine. She says she was assaulted just because she worked for the former president.

"I was raped myself," said Lanza.

Militia groups use rape, genocide and murder as weapons. Experts estimate that more than 5.4 million people have been killed.

"You will hear stories of women who have been raped repeatedly by multiple armed soldiers in front of their family members. They have watched their husbands and their children be killed in front of their eyes," said Hameed.

What does the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) have to say about it? They say mining activities that fuel conflict are "unacceptable."

New U.S. regulations will soon require electronics companies to audit and disclose their metal sources, eliminating conflict materials. However, the feds can't control Congo mineral smugglers who mask the mineral origins.

But Leontine Lanza wants people to know-they can make a difference and save other lives by demanding electronics companies use only conflict-free components.

"I am a survivor, but many of my own people die for nothing," said Lanza.

The CEA says the technology industry is committed to doing its part to ensure transparency and responsible sourcing.

The Enough Project ranked the top 21 electronics manufacturers, showing which have take steps to use conflict-free minerals. Click here to see the rankings.