Not only do universities educate students on issues of social justice, but they also serve as venues for students to organize around these issues and generate substantive change in society. Today, student leaders at Brown, Dartmouth, and Yale are seizing their opportunity to stimulate change by releasing a joint statement calling for responsible investment policies in relation to conflict minerals sourced from eastern Congo. Brown, Dartmouth, and Yale all participate in the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, or CFCI, a network of more than 150 campuses worldwide, in this rising call for action.
Congo is home to the deadliest conflict since World War II, and is considered the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman due to incredibly high rates of sexual violence and the use of rape as a weapon of war. While there is no singular cause for this conflict, one of its major drivers is conflict minerals. Rebel groups fight to capture mining areas and use the profits from the illicit mineral trade to fund their violent campaigns. These minerals end up in our cell phones, laptops, cameras, and countless other consumer electronics.
Universities are major purchasers of these products, and consequently they are in a strategic position to pressure the end users of Congo’s minerals – electronics companies – to clean up their supply chains and ensure that their products are not funding violence in Congo.
Student leaders at Brown, Dartmouth, and Yale reiterate this position in the joint statement:
“We recognize our unique potential and social obligation to promote ethical practices on our campuses and beyond. We therefore call on our respective administrations, investor responsibility committees, Boards of Trustees, and on members of other Ivy League institutions to help bring an end to the atrocities in Congo by advocating for socially responsible procurement and investment policies related to conflict minerals.”
This statement represents the growing network of CFCI schools that are promoting responsible investment policies across the country and internationally. By coming together jointly as members of the Ivy League, students at Brown, Dartmouth, and Yale are amplifying the pressure on companies to uphold the conflict minerals reporting regulations determined by the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, in August 2012. Many companies are living up to the challenge, as is evidenced by Raise Hope for Congo’s 2012 Conflict Minerals Company Rankings; however, there is also severe backlash from companies threatening to sue the SEC for implementing the rules, which companies claim are placing an undue cost on business.
Clearly there is an argument to be made for the human costs of perpetuating the conflict minerals trade in eastern Congo. But beyond the humanitarian angle there is also an argument for upholding consistent business practices, providing transparent sourcing information to consumers, and promoting responsible investments. Student leaders at Brown, Dartmouth and Yale recognize that pressure must be sustained in order for real change to be actualized, and therefore acknowledge that “this joint statement is meant to serve as impetus for further action.” They are calling on their own communities, as well as on students from schools across the country to demand ethical conflict mineral policies that protect both a consumer’s right to know, and a miner’s right to live.