Do you support the rape of women and children? Check your phone.

Do you like your gadget?  Everyone likes gadgets these days, whether you own an iPhone, a Blackberry, a Kindle, an iPad, or any number of laptops cellphones, and slim cameras, you name it, they are all devices that are tiny, capable, and cool.  Well, did you know that critical components may come from a country known as “the rape capital of the world?”

Nicholas Kristoff described what he has seen in the Congo in a column this weekend:

“In Congo, I’ve seen women who have been mutilated, children who have been forced to eat their parents’ flesh, girls who have been subjected to rapes that destroyed their insides. Warlords finance their predations in part through the sale of mineral ore containing tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold. For example, tantalum from Congo is used to make electrical capacitors that go into phones, computers and gaming devices.”

In the Congo, 5.4 million people have died since 1998, in what is considered the deadliest cnflict across the world since World War II.  In 2006, the Congo held its first democratic election since independance in 1960, and approved a new constitution, but despite the creation of a stable government, violence persists.  Time magazine described the situation after that election:

“The suffering of Congo’s people continues. Fighting persists in the east, where rebel holdouts loot, rape and murder. The Congolese army, which was meant to be both symbol and protector in the reunited country, has cut its own murderous swath, carrying out executions and razing villages. Even deadlier are the side effects of war, the scars left by years of brutality that disfigure Congo’s society and infrastructure. The country is plagued by bad sanitation, disease, malnutrition and dislocation. Routine and treatable illnesses have become weapons of mass destruction. According to the IRC, which has conducted a series of detailed mortality surveys over the past six years, 1,250 Congolese still die every day because of war-related causes–the vast majority succumbing to diseases and malnutrition that wouldn’t exist in peaceful times. In many respects, the country remains as broken, volatile and dangerous as ever, which is to say, among the very worst places on earth.”

Activists are raising awareness on the issue, as you can see in the above video.  In fact, an amendment was included in the financial reform bill that will require companies like Research in Motion, Intel, and Apple to report their use of conflict minerals.  However, it is up to consumers to demand that companies like Apple include minerals from Australia instead of the Congo.  An iPhone with tantalum from the Congo is just not cool anymore.  You can sign a petition here that will be delivered to the 21 biggest electronics companies, and you can demand that companies prove how they sourced their minerals before you buy a new gadget.  It is the very least that we can do.