Has the video game industry dug up its very own blood diamond?
According to a report by activist site Toward Freedom, for the past decade the search for a rare metal necessary in the manufacturing of Sony's Playstation 2 game console has fueled a brutal conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
At the center of the conflict is the unrefined metallic ore, coltan. After processing, coltan turns into a powder called tantalum, which is used extensively in a wealth of western electronic devices including cell phones, computers and, of course, game consoles.
Allegedly, the demand for coltan prompted Rwandan military groups and western mining companies to plunder hundreds of millions of dollars worth of the rare metal, often by forcing prisoners-of-war and even children to work in the country's coltan mines.
"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," said Ex-British Parliament Member Oona King.
So where's the connection to Sony? According to Toward Freedom, during the 2000 launch of the PS2, the electronics giant was having trouble meeting consumer demand. To pump out more units, Sony required a significant increase in the production of electric capacitors, which are primarily made with tantalum. This helped drive the world price of the powder from $49/pound to a whopping $275/pound, resulting in the frenzied scouring of the Congolese hills known for being ripe with coltan.
Sony has since sworn off using tantalum acquired from the Congo, claiming that current builds of the PS2, PSP and PS3 consoles are sourced from a variety of mines in several different countries.
But according to researcher David Barouski, they're hardly off the hook.
"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."
Currently, the Playstation 2 is the best-selling video game console of all-time, having sold through over 140 million units.
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