Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Maybe it's being done as a demonstration of just how bad debt can be, but it's looking more and more likely that the costs of staging Live 8 are way going to outstrip available resources - and Geldof is relying loans to underwrite the costs of the effort. He's also scrambling into bed with some very dubious sponsors:

Nokia has signed a £5 million deal to become a global sponsor

Nokia? Global sponsor of a campaign to try and make lives better for everyone in Africa? Is this the same Nokia who makes use of tantalum capacitors, at least a significant portion of which are in turn made using coltan, blamed by the UN for being at the heart of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Among the most alarming of the report's allegations was that Rwandan, Ugandan and Burundian rebels had looted and smuggled thousands of tons of coltan from the Congo into their countries to export to the global market, using the profits to finance their militias. Indeed, the official statistics provided by these countries' governments - which many human-rights observers believe hide large amounts of black-market trading - show that Uganda and Rwanda dramatically increased the export of coltan following their occupation of northeastern Congo. For example, Uganda reported 2.5 tons of coltan exports a year before the conflict broke out in 1997. In 1999, the volume exploded to nearly 70 tons. The pillaging of the Congo's natural resources is exacting a devastating human and economic toll, says Leonard She Okitundu, the Congo's minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation. He told the United Nations Security Council in early May that "a consensus was clearly emerging in the council and in the international community on the links between the shameless looting of Congolese natural wealth and the massacres of the Congolese people." The fighting, he reported, has led to "assassinations of civilians, deportations, torture, rape and deliberate spreading of HIV/AIDS," as well as the displacement of millions of refugees.

It should be pointed out that The U.N. report does not directly blame computer manufacturers and mobile phone makers for the bloody trade, citing instead the companies trading minerals as "the engine of the conflict in the DRC." . And there are other sources of coltan. So, there's no real reason to use looted coltan and fuel the conflict further.

But "so far, high-tech companies have been reluctant to acknowledge they may be using materials originating from Congo rebels. That said, they can do little to prove they do not. "We first heard about this in April and immediately asked our suppliers if they used tantalum from the Congo," said Outi Mikkonen, communications manager for environmental affairs at Nokia. "All you can do is ask, and if they say no, we believe it."" So, that's alright then - if they say 'no', that'll be good enough. Now, Nokia might not be using any coltan from Congo, but not probing too deeply is, at best, letting other manufacturers who are off the hook way too easily; at worst, allowing the company to enjoy the benefits of murder, pillage and enslavement without it having to weigh on their conscience. It could be argued that if Nokia really wanted to spend five million quid making things better in Africa, it could put some of the cash making absolutely certain that none of its products are made using the blood of the Congolese, rather than underwriting Geldof's mid-life crisis. But then there's a difference between doing something useful and spending a portion of your marketing budget.

Meanwhile, back at Hyde Park, AOL will pay about £3 million as an official sponsor. It will transmit the concerts via broadband and receive a number of corporate hospitality packages to offer guests.

Corporate hospitality? At an event supposedly helping the poorest people in the world lift themselves out of poverty? We guess just because you're concentrating on making poverty history doesn't mean you can't enjoy some Pimms roped off from the unwashed.