PS2 Sparks African War In The Congo?
Sure, Sony has sold 140 million PS2s worldwide over the past 9 years, but at what price?
If you're at all familiar with the film, "Blood Diamond," this situation is eerily similar... According to Yahoo! Games and an activist site called Toward Freedom, the need for a particular component in the PlayStation 2 once caused a "brutal conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo." Do you know what coltan is? It's an unrefined metallic ore which, when ground into a powder called tantalum, becomes an extraordinarily popular material used in all sorts of electronic equipment. They use it in cell phones, computers, and yes, even video game consoles like the PS2. Now, when Sony started to mass produce their system, they obviously needed a whole lot of coltan, and when that happened, all hell apparently broke loose.
The new and exhausting search for the material set Rwandan military groups and western mining companies into action, and because they needed so much, they allegedly forced "prisoners-of-war and even children" to work down in the coltan mines. Ex-British Parliament Member Oona King said- "Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms." Well, if that doesn't make you feel guilty, backing over your neighbor's kitten with your car probably won't faze you, either. When Sony required more tantalum to meet consumer demand, the price of the powder shot from $49/pound to $275/pound, which of course resulted in a widespread fevered search of the Congolese hills.
Researcher David Barouski had this to add:
"Sony's PlayStation 2 launch...was a big part of the huge increase in demand for coltan that began in early 1999," he explained. "Sony and other companies like it, have the benefit of plausible deniability, because the coltan ore trades hands so many times from when it is mined to when Sony gets a processed product, that a company often has no idea where the original coltan ore came from, and frankly don't care to know. But statistical analysis shows it to be nearly inconceivable that Sony made all its PlayStations without using Congolese coltan."
If you're wondering whether or not this may still be going on, it may be, but it won't have much to do with Sony's PS3. Sony has since said they won't use any tantalum from the Congo, and they further state that all current PS3s, PSPs and even PS2s do not use Congolese tantalum; they simply found the material in other countries. It's very difficult to tell what raw materials are used in the pieces of machinery we use every day, so it hardly makes sense to say Sony is the only corporation on earth that may have incited civil unrest for production purposes. It's an intriguing story, to be sure, and just goes to show how far removed from certain realities we really are...
7/25/2008 Ben Dutka