Although she was unaware of it at the time, a human rights summit hosted by the Panim Institute in D.C. last month would end up permanently changing Dr. Mirele Goldsmith’s perspective on consumer electronics.
The Human Rights and Genocide Summit is organized and hosted by the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization Panim Institute for Jewish youth interested in forming campaigns on issues relating to genocide in their communities. One of the speakers at the event was Naama Haviv from Jewish World Watch, who discussed the issue of conflict minerals and how our decisions as consumers of these minerals have impacted the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo. Upon learning of the connection between the electronics she buys and uses everyday and the lives of people in one of the deadliest conflicts in the world, Dr. Goldsmith was moved to act in whatever way she could.
As fate would have it, Dr. Goldsmith’s phone was hacked three days later, and she was forced to buy a new phone from her wireless provider. Remembering the presentation she had heard at the summit the previous weekend, she asked the sales associate whether AT&T carried any phones from companies who were making efforts to clean up their supply chains from conflict minerals in the Congo. Although her question was initially met with some confusion, the salesperson researched company efforts through the Enough Project’s consumer action guide and provided Dr. Goldsmith with a Samsung phone with a yellow rating. Upon returning home, however, Dr. Goldsmith did some research of her own and found that there were Motorola phones available through AT&T that, although outside of her plan, had a better rating. She knew she had to take the phone back and ask for the better option. “My conscience was kicking me,” she explained.
And return the next day she did, leaving with a phone from Motorola, a company which recently launched their Solutions for Hope initiative aimed at clean sourcing of tantalum in their phones effective this summer. In the meantime, the sales associate at AT&T had also been “compelled to do something and spread the word,” as Dr. Goldsmith said. After reading Enough’s consumer rankings report of the top 21 electronics companies, she passed the information along to the entire staff of her store. In the course of a week a new and diverse web of people had learned about the atrocities being perpetuated by the conflict minerals trade in the Congo, and were emboldened to act in the name of the cause.
In sharing her story, Dr. Goldsmith highlights the everyday actions of individuals in the movement to demand conflict-free products and help put an end to a conflict that has lasted more than two decades and claimed well over 5 million lives. Her experience is only one of many that demonstrate the ripple effect of one person’s decision to raise their voice. The collective voice of conscientious consumers is an important force bolstering efforts to reform the minerals industry so that it benefits the people of Congo.
As for Dr. Goldsmith? In her words, “I’ll certainly never buy another phone or computer without asking about it again.”