The conflict-free movement sweeping the nation was on full display inside New York City’s Grand Central Station at the opening of the Apple store on December 9. Activists inspired by Congolese human rights activist Delly Mawazo Sesete’s petition on Change.org targeting Apple CEO Tim Cook—which has already gained more than 27,000 signatures—gathered to rally in support of Apple’s continued role as an industry leader, and to encourage the company to create the world's first conflict-free product sourcing clean minerals from the Congo.
Prior to the rally, the Change.org and Raise Hope for Congo team researched the guidelines for protesting inside Grand Central Station: no noise, and no blocking the flow of traffic. Out of respect for these policies, and to avoid being asked to leave, we prepared to stand in front of the Apple Store and engage the public with signs that read “Think Different. Think Conflict-Free.” Before we made it to the Apple Store though, three police officers approached us, ask us for identification, inspected our signs, and informed us that if we held up signs inside Grand Central we would be arrested and removed. Despite this setback, we proceeded to the Apple Store signless, but with bright yellow Apple t-shirts displaying the words “Think Conflict-free.”
The Apple Store opened its doors at 10 a.m. sharp. Conflict minerals activists from Enough, Occupy Wall Street, and other groups were fired up and spreading this message to the hundreds of people gathered in Grand Central Station:
Apple is the company, Tim Cook is the leader, and now is the time for Apple to commit to making the world’s first Conflict-Free iPhone made with minerals sourced cleanly from eastern Congo.
As we began the rally, the NYPD threatened to arrest rally participants, and banned us from urging people to sign Delly’s petition. We were again threatened with arrest when we tried to distribute fliers that promoted the petition and invited people to join in “petitioning Apple to continue to be a leading company and make a conflict-free product that helps communities in Congo.”
Despite the constant police pressure, we stood our ground in solidarity with Delly and the people of Congo, asking Apple to make a conflict-free product using minerals from eastern Congo. Within moments a barrage of reporters and photojournalists swarmed, taking photos, asking each activist about the issue and why we were there.
One activist, Amanda, expressed “we think iPhones should be about friends and family, not fueling rape, violence, and war in Congo. That’s why we are here today.”
John, from Washington D.C., said that he was “asking Apple to continue to be the innovative company that they are, that they have proven themselves to be time and time again, not technologically this time, but on an issue that really matters in human rights” and that he “believes that innovation can bring peace to a country half a world away.”
Delly’s petition has seized a pivotal moment in the conflict-free movement. This year the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative has grown its presence from 20 to over 80 campuses, a total of eight campuses have passed a Conflict-Free Resolution, and grassroots activism has sprung up in places like Alabama and South Carolina. The movement has reached all corners of the U.S., and consumer demand for conflict-free products this shopping season is at its highest.
Apple has been an industry leader so far in the conflict-free movement, so we are asking it to take the next step. It has the necessary gravitas within the electronics industry, and the consumer brand recognition that if it commits to making a conflict-free product with minerals sourced from eastern Congo, it could transform the industry forever.
Holiday shoppers await Apple’s commitment to a conflict-free product, but more importantly, Delly and the people of Congo await Tim Cook’s leadership in reforming the Congo mining industry.
Apple is the company. Tim Cook is the leader. Now is the time.