Coltan, Tungsten, & Tin

Countries Where Coltan, Tungsten, & Tin are Reportedly Produced with Forced Labor and/or Child Labor


  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (FL, CL)


  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (FL, CL)


  • Bolivia (CL)

  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (FL, CL)

  • Indonesia (CL)

Where are coltan, tungsten, and tin reportedly produced with trafficking and/or child labor?

According to the U.S. Department of State 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, coltan, tungsten and tin, three widely-used minerals, are all produced with forced labor and child labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).[1]

The 2015 U.S. Department of Labor List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor also reports child labor and forced labor in coltan, tungsten and tin in the DRC, as well as child labor in tin mining in Bolivia and Indonesia.[2]

The U.S. Department of State 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report lists the Indonesia as a Tier 2 country and DRC and Bolivia as Tier 2 Watch List countries.[3]

[1] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2015.

[2] U.S. Department of Labor. 2014 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. 2014.

[3] U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report. 2015.

What do trafficking and/or child labor in coltan, tungsten and tin production look like?

Until very recently armed groups in the Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo controlled the majority of the mines. In some cases, the forces that control mining sites, often representatives of the armed forces or rebel groups, make local miners work at gunpoint without pay at their mining site for short periods of time – a process known as “solango.”[4] The groups controlling the mines are often the only source of credit in these impoverished regions, and they give loans to miners for money, food, and tools. Miners are then required to pay back these loans at hugely inflated rates, which can force them into a cycle of debt bondage. In addition, false or exaggerated criminal charges may be used to compel miners into service. Child soldiers are also conscribed into work at the mines.[5] In 2010, the U.N. Group ofExperts stated that, “in the Kivu provinces, almost every mining deposit [was] controlled by a military group.[6] More recently, however, the studies have found that over three quarters of miners surveyed in Eastern Province were in mines not directly affected by conflict as of October 2016.[7] In the DRC, child labor has been reported in the mining of coltan, a mineral used to produce cell phones, laptops, and electronic gaming. Coltan is toxic and can cause birth defects. These child workers are often in forced labor, made to work long hours digging for conflict minerals. Children and adult laborers work in narrowly dug tunnels in river beds. Children are used for this process as their small size allows them to more easily navigate these passages. However, these tunnels are structurally unsound and prone to collapse, already causing thousands of deaths.[8] Tin may be mined with child labor in Bolivia. Children generally mine tin in Bolivia in artisanal mines or mines abandoned by commercial mining companies. Children, known as ‘jucus,’ are engaged in pushing carts, drilling, and extracting and cleaning ore. Children and adults working in clandestine mines work without adequate safety equipment, ventilation or proper lighting. They are vulnerable to illness, lung damage from dust, repetitive motion stress injuries, injuries from falls, carrying heavy loads, and working long hours.[9] Many mining sites are hundreds of years old and poorly maintained, so workers are also at risk of death in collapsing mine shafts.[10] In 2008, at least 60 children died from mine collapse. An estimated 3,000 children, some as young as six, work in mining in Bolivia.[11]

[4] Pöyhönen, Päivi, Kristina Areskog Bjurling and Jeroen Cuvelier. Voices from the Inside: Local Views on Mining Reform in Eastern DR Congo. FinnWatch and SwedWatch. October 2010.

[5] Fitzpatrick, Terry. “Several Types of Slavery Linked to Congo’s Mining Industry.” Huffington Post. September 2, 2010.

[6] BBCNews. “DR Congo minerals: Most mines ‘conflict free’ since US law.” June 10, 2014.

[7] [8] Charles Lavery. “Plight of African child slaves forced into mines – for our mobile phones.” Labor Rights. July 6, 2008.

[9] World Vision. [Bolivia] If You Fall, No One’s Gonna Carry You Out: Children Who Work in Tin Mines. 2007.$file/work_bolivia_200706.pdf

[10] Forrero, Juan. “As Bolivian Miners Die, Boys Are Left to Toil.” New York Times. March 24, 2003.

[11] National Public Radio (NPR). “Thousands of Children As Young As 6 Work In Bolivia’s Mines.” November 30, 2013

Coltan, Tungsten and Tin Production and Supply Chain

The tantalum supply chain begins by accessing the mineral’s raw ore through mining, both artisanal and large scale, or by recovering tantalum from tin smelters or recycled scrap metal. Before tantalum is manufactured into consumer goods and products, it goes through mines, smelters, refineries, and manufacturers. Mining is responsible for approximately 74 percent of all tantalum ore, followed by scrap recycling at 18 percent and finally 8 percent from tin smelters. Once the raw ore is sourced, it is concentrated by gravity and processed by first smelters, then refineries. At the refinery stage, tantalum is made into products that will later be used for manufacturing, including tantalum metals, powders, and oxides. Any variation in supply, methodology, access to processing tantalum within this supply chain can disrupt the stability of the mineral’s pricing. These price fluctuations influence many industries in which tantalum is used and can impact the final manufactured consumer good in which it is featured.[12] Tantalum is used to produce a variety of goods, including electrical equipment, turbine blades, and surgical instruments.[13] Despite government prevention efforts, the smuggling of conflict minerals is prevalent within the Democratic Republic of Congo. Al Jazeera reported that while the introduction of conflict-free supply chains has increased the revenue of artisanal and small scales mines, from which conflict minerals were typically smuggled, the continued smuggling of these minerals “calls into question the traceability mechanisms” within the larger supply chain. Anti-smuggling efforts have included tagging bags of minerals with barcodes, which are then logged and tracked by companies operating in DRC and Rwanda.[14] According to the Electronics Industry Transparency Initiative, “10 million people, 16 percent of the Congolese population, are directly or indirectly dependent on small scale mining.[15] After the minerals are mined, they are bought by individual traders known as “negociants” who maintain relationships with the parties controlling the mines. The negociants sell the minerals to trading houses, where they are sorted. The minerals then are purchased by exporters called “comptoirs.” Some comptoirs may also buy minerals directly from the mines. These comptoirs are licensed and registered with the Congolese government. European and Asian companies use the comptoir’s “legal” status as a justification to buy from the DRC. The comptoir is not required to provide any documentation, so information on the minerals’ origin can be easily obscured at this step. To be used or sold on the global market, the minerals must be refined. This is most commonly performed by companies in East Asia, who may combine Congolese minerals with minerals from other countries.[16]

[12] Yadira Soto-Viruet, W. David Menzie, John F. Papp, and Thomas R. Yager. “An Exploration in Mineral Supply Chain Mapping Using Tantalum as an Example.” U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S. Geological Survey. 2013.

[13] Global Advanced Metals. “Tantalum: Supply Chain.” 2010.

[14] Natasja Sheriff. “The losing battle against conflict minerals.” Al Jazeera. September 14, 2015.

[15] World Bank. Democratic Republic of Congo Growth with Governance In the Mining Sector.  May 2008.

[16] Global Witness. Faced with a Gun, What Can You Do?  War and the Militarization of Mining in Eastern Congo. July 31, 2009.

How do Trafficking and/or Child Labor in Coltan, Tungsten and Tin Production Affect Me?

Coltan, tungsten and tin are commonly used in electronics such as cell phones and computers. Conflict minerals can be found in products ranging from jewelry, to electronics, to appliances. Companies whose products use tin and other minerals include Tiffany, Starbucks, General Electrics and Target.[17]  Coltan: The source of the minerals niobium and tantalum. In the context of the DRC, coltan generally refers to tantalum, which is used widely in the capacitors of common electronics, like cell phones and laptops.  Tungsten: Derived from wolframite, tungsten is used in electronics due to its high conductivity. It is also used as an alloy to strengthen steel.  Tin: Often found alongside coltan, tin from cassiterite has a wide variety of uses from the production of tin cans to tin solder in electronics. Together, these minerals are sometimes referred to as the “3 T’s”, an abbreviation of tantalum, tungsten and tin.

[17] Yimou Lee and Joel Schectman. “How does 3TG Affect Me?” Reuters. December 3, 2016.


What Governments, Corporations, and Others are doing:

In July 2010, the U.S. Congress passed Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which “requires companies using cassiterite, coltan, wolframite, and gold to find out whether the metals originated in the DRC or neighboring countries.” If minerals originate from these countries, then the companies must thoroughly review their supply chain to see if the mining of the metals “benefited abusive armed groups in eastern DRC.”[18] Most recently, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce threatened to overturn important parts of the Dodd-Frank Act. In response, Microsoft, General Electric, and Motorola Solutions publicly announced they do not support any stance in opposition to the continuation of Section 1502. Labor rights groups are calling on other major electronics companies to also speak out in favor of Section 1502.[19] This provision in the Dodd-Frank act was criticized by some for its potential to cause a de-facto boycott on all minerals from the DRC, with some companies noting the difficulty of verifying the source due to the extremely weak and chaotic regulatory environment. A reduction in purchases of DRC minerals could have a negative effect on artisanal miners and the economy as a whole.[20] However, several companies have committed to sourcing ethical minerals from within the DRC by working with NGOs to create traceability and tracking systems. [21] [22] [23] [24] [25]  In 2017, it was reported that President Trump was considering an Executive Order to suspend the conflict minerals provision of the Dodd-Frank Act.[26] Beginning in 2012, domestic laws in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo required that companies working in minerals disclose their operations and complete due diligence requirements in assessing their supply chains.  As of February 2012, the DRC government requires “all mining and mineral trading companies operating in the country [to carry] out supply chain due diligence, in line with international standards set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), to ensure their purchases are not supporting warring parties in eastern DRC.”  The DRC enforced the law last May, suspending two mineral traders who violated the Congolese law.[27] However, few of the companies operating in the Great Lakes mineral sector release their due diligence reports on an annual basis. A European Commission Impact Assessment in 2014 found that 93 percent of surveyed companies working in minerals in this region do include a conflict minerals policy or a due diligence procedure in their annual reports or websites.[28] In 2014, Global Witness reported that the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Minerals, Metals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters (CCCMC), a branch of the Chinese Government, published guidelines for the mining and trading of conflict minerals. These standards were published to prevent conflict and corruption within mineral mining in addition to protecting both labor and environmental labor rights. The CCCMC offers trainings and outreach to companies wishing to be more sustainable in their mineral consumption.[29] The Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative introduced the Conflict Free Smelter Program, which requires third party auditing.  As of 2014, approximately 200 companies reportedly participate in the initiative.[30]

[18] Global Witness. “Electronics Companies Must Break from US Chamber on Conflict Minerals.”  June 27, 2012.

[19] Global Witness. “Electronics Companies Must Break from US Chamber on Conflict Minerals.”  June 27, 2012.

Global Witness. Conflict Minerals: Legislation. May 2012.

Global Witness. “Congo Government Enforces Law to Curb Conflict Mineral Trade.” May 21, 2012.

[20] Seay, Laura. “Congo Conflict Minerals Mill Hurts the Miners it Hopes to Help.” The Christian Science Monitor. July 18, 2011.

[21] HP. “Conflict Minerals.”

[22] Gunther, Marc. “Intel Unveils Conflict-free Processors: Will the Industry Follow Suit?” The Guardian. January 13, 2014.

[23] Philips. “We are working to make our supply chain ‘conflict-free.’” 2017.

[24] Lynnel Browning. “Where Apple Gets the Tantalum for Your iPhone.” Newsweek. February 4, 2015.

[25] Lynnel Browning. “Where Apple Gets the Tantalum for Your iPhone.” Newsweek. February 4, 2015.

[26] Lynch, Sara N. Stephenson, Emily. “White House plans directive targeting ‘conflict minerals’ rule: sources.” Reuters. February 7, 2017.

[27] Global Witness. “Electronics Companies Must Break from US Chamber on Conflict Minerals.”  June 27, 2012.

Global Witness. Conflict Minerals: Legislation. May 2012.

Global Witness. “Congo Government Enforces Law to Curb Conflict Mineral Trade.” May 21, 2012.

[28] Global Witness. “Taking a Look at Tantalum Supply Chains: How Responsible Are They?” October 17, 2016.

[29] Global Witness. “Tackling conflict minerals How a new Chinese initiative can address Chinese companies’ risks.” October 2014.

[30] Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition. About the Conflict Free Sourcing Initiative.


Read an article from Free the Slaves about the different types of forced labor in mining in the DRC or go in-depth with reports by Global Witness. 

Read about the need for a certification system in the DRC mineral sector.

Read this list of conflict mineral frameworks and initiatives.

Learn more about Conflict Free Campus initiatives with the Enough Project.

Watch a video about getting engaged with the movement to invest in conflict-free gold from the DRC.