The PlayStation 2's requirement for a rare metal in its manufacturing process helped fuel a bloody, decade-long conflict in Africa's Democratic Republic of Congo, according to an investigative report on Toward Freedom.
The site alleges that demand for coltan by Sony and other personal electronics manufacturers led Rwandan troops and Western companies to exploit the people and mineral resources of Congo, with children often forced to work in mines.
Oona King, a former member of the British Parliament, told Toward Freedom:
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.
So, what is coltan? From the report:
After it is refined, coltan becomes a bluish-gray powder called tantalum... [which] has one significant use: to satisfy the West’s insatiable appetite for personal technology. Tantalum is used to make cell phones, laptops and other electronics made, for example, by SONY, a multi-billion dollar multinational based in Japan that manufactures the iconic PlayStation...
Researcher David Barouski commented:
[The] PlayStation 2 launch... was a big part of the huge increase in demand for coltan... 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.
A Sony rep told Toward Freedom that the company now takes steps to ensure that it does not use coltan illegally obtained from Congo in its manufacturing processes.