Another raw material that comes at a high price: Tantalum

Posted: April 15, 2011 in Natural Resources, Rights around the world
Tags: , ,
A high purity (99.999 %) tantalum single cryst...

Image via Wikipedia

As I blogged a while back, cocoa sourcing is a pretty sorry story. Nearly half the world’s cocoa beans come from Cote D’Ivoire. There are many child slaves put to work harvesting the cocoa that ends up in our Cadbury blocks and Snickers bars. Then the tax revenues have been propping up the election-stealing ex-President Laurent Gbagbo. It’s about as bad as it gets. Notwithstanding all this the situation continues because, mainly, the cocoa is not purchased directly from the harvesters but in commodity exchanges based in Europe. The confectionery companies throw their hands in the air and say We don’t *know* where any particular bag of cocoa comes from.

Funny that. Throw in a change of regulation and people miraculously find they are, after all, capable of tracking country of origin.

This is exactly what has happened recently with tantalum mining. Tantalum (a.k.a. coltan) is a small but necessary ingredient in electronic components. Scandalously, over one-third of the world’s supplies had been coming from illegal mining operations overseen by guerilla groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The used the revenue from sales of the material to purchase arms.

Mid last year the United States Congress passed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. A clause was inserted requiring companies that supply tantalum, gold and a number of other precious metals not merely to assert that they do not source it from conflict zones but to actually audit and prove this.

Now … why is that so difficult for cocoa producers? It’s not. They just can’t be bothered unless they really have to.

This is the brilliant viral ad that goaded the legislators into action:


  1. […] prices of oil, wheat, corn, cocoa, copper, tin, oil, tantalum … you name it … are largely set on this exchange, along with the fates of millions of […]

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