Hewlett Packard is to publish a list of all the smelters worldwide which supply it with the metals used in HP products, according to the New York Times.

HP is one of the first big companies to buckle under the global push to ban the use of “conflict minerals” dug from the earth by coercion, captured by dictators, sold globally, leaving the mine workers as poor and exploited as ever. HP, acutely aware that its reputation is its capital, is “hoping the transparency helps stop the spread of ‘conflict minerals’ that finance wars.”

HP sets a precedent which other big corporate users of metals –from computers to mobile phones to cars- may follow, in the hope of staving off regulatory insistence on excluding conflict minerals, part of the package of new US laws to reform the post financial crisis corporate world. “In August, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission also adopted a rule requiring all publicly traded companies to disclose their use of certain conflict minerals beginning next year,” the NY Times says.

The concept of “conflict minerals” has caught on. Everyone thinks of Africa, specifically the Congo and Zimbabwe, of tyrants and sweated labour. Spoiling Tibet, due out in September, argues that the minerals extracted from Tibet should also be classified as conflict minerals. To the Tibetans, the systematic stripping of their natural endowment is theft, a theft they are powerless to oppose.

As mining of Tibet scales up, the world’s factory in China moves ever closer to Tibet. As labour costs on China’s wealthy coast rise, heavy industries are moving inland, especially to Chongqing, the far point deep inland reachable by large ships, thanks to the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. This means there will soon be a real likelihood that your next mobile phone, or computer, or even car, could be made of copper, lithium, molybdenum, gold and other metals mined in Tibet. This is not a hypothetical. It gets personal.

How Tibet went from being the archetype of remoteness to integration into global commodity flows, is tracked in the forthcoming Spoiling Tibet.

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