What can a U.S. law do about "conflict minerals" in the Congo?

A boy sorts through rocks while looking for gold at a mine March 27, 2006 in Mongbwalu, Congo.

The Dodd-Frank Act passed in July of last year, attached to a much larger budget bill approved by Congress and signed by President Obama. It requires American businesses to provide notification whenever they purchase so-called "conflict minerals" from the Congo. The idea is to shame businesses into not providing money to merchants who deal in such minerals. These are minerals such as tantalum, which is found in many common devices like computers, phones and DVD players.

We talk to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) who co-authored the legislation with former Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.). "Congo is one of worst places in the world for devastation of innocent human beings, mass murder and rape," says Frank, "And much of it is funded by mining industry, and we are asking -- telling -- companies we don't want them financing the worst abuses."

But specific rules about how companies must abide by the legislation aren't expected until August, over a year after the bill was signed. We talk to Eric Johnson, director of the Center for Digital Studies at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth who says that this legislation is not likely to slow the trade of conflict minerals. The U.S. market may slow down but the rest of the world won't. Johnson says the compliance aspect of following the act will likely mean more of a bureaucratic hurdle for businesses, which may get passed on to people buying gadgets.

Also in the program, Sony researchers have invented a small blimp that can project live images of your face. The idea is that you control the blimp at your computer while a webcam films you. Then you can be at a meeting but represented by a floating face blimp. Because maybe that's something you want.

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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