Group documents slave-like conditions at Congo mines

February 25, 2011 8:52:17 PM PST
Cell phones, computers, laptops have all become crucial to life in America. But a child in Africa may have paid the ultimate price for the electronics you own.

These are children working in slave-like conditions 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 and no regulations.

Mine shaft collapses and children dying are common, says activist Sasha Lezhnev who took this exclusive video:

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

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 -- hundreds of millions of dollars -- goes 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 with 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," Lanza said.

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've been raped repeatedly by multiple armed soldiers in front of their family members; they have watched their husbands and children be killed in front of their eyes," Hameed said.

What does the Consumer Electronics Association have to say about it? They tell us mining activities that fuel conflict are unacceptable.

New U.S. regulations will soon require electronics companies to audit and disclose their metal sources.

However, the feds can't control Congo mineral smugglers who lie about or mask the mineral origins.

But Leotine wants people to know they can make a difference by demanding that electronics companies do a better job of monitoring their materials.

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

So how do you know if what you're buying is considered a blood electronic? The Enough Project ranked 21 manufacturers, including HP, Microsoft, and Apple. The companies at the top of the list have taken steps to use conflict-free minerals. The companies at the bottom of list, according to the Enough Project, have not.