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Conflict-Free: A Growing Movement

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Conflict-Free: A Growing Movement

Posted by Alex Hellmuth and Tracy Fehr on October 28, 2011

The progress made by Congo activists earlier this month in the state of California, the city of St. Petersburg, FL, and most recently at the University of Colorado-Boulder, is part of a dynamic conflict-free movement that is spreading across the nation. The movement is the result of citizens raising concerns that their own local, state, and federal governments and universities are investing in companies that are—knowingly or not—supporting armed groups in Congo.

Since the passage of the conflict minerals provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act in July 2010, which calls on electronics companies to report minerals sourcing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the movement has exploded into a national campaign inspiring state legislation, permeating city council agendas, and changing university policy. To date, California is the first state to pass conflict-free legislation, two cities (Pittsburgh, PA and St. Petersburg, FL) have passed conflict-free city resolutions, and eight universities have issued conflict-free statements. While each of these efforts is unique in its approach, collectively they are making a strong statement to companies sourcing minerals from eastern Congo to clean up their supply chains, and they are strengthening the support behind the federal legislation.

The conflict-free movement began with the simple recognition that the same minerals funding armed groups in eastern Congo—tin, tantalum, tungsten, or the 3Ts, and gold—are used to power cell phones, laptops, computers, and other consumer products in the United States. In response to this consumer connection, a group of students at Stanford University set out last year to right this wrong. In the spring of 2010 they succeeded in pressuring their university administration to pass a proxy voting guideline that commits Stanford to vote in favor of shareholder resolutions supporting mineral supply chain transparency for companies it holds stock in.

 This initial push sparked a movement across college campuses to pass similar “conflict-free resolutions.” The target of such efforts has been electronics companies, who have the power to trace and audit their supply chains to free them of conflict minerals. Students have applied their leverage as individual consumers, and as a particularly coveted demographic of electronics companies, to send a strong message. Additionally, by encouraging their colleges and universities to issue a statement in support of conflict-free products, students demonstrate their concern through a collective, institutional voice, which—given that colleges and universities are major contract holders and investors with electronics companies—places serious pressure on those companies to meet demands for corporate responsibility.

Student activists have been at the forefront of the conflict-free movement, stirring up awareness on campuses and in their communities, and petitioning their university administrators, city councils, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As a direct result of student efforts, Clark University recently issued conflict-free statements that include a change in purchasing policy, and UC-Boulder just became the first public university to announce a conflict-free policy statement. On the west coast from UC-Santa Cruz to UC Santa Barbara, students are pushing for the entire University of California system to commit to going conflict-free. Furthermore, students from Ohio University have reached out beyond their university to ask their hometown high-school districts to pass conflict-free resolutions, including the Westerville City, OH, school district that is comprised of three high schools, four middle schools, and 16 elementary schools.

To channel all of these student efforts and energy into one movement, the Enough Project’s Raise Hope for Congo Campaign and STAND have launched the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, or CFCI. Currently, more than 60 schools are actively involved with the campaign and moving towards becoming conflict-free.

The conflict-free movement got a boost on October 9 when California’s Governor Brown signed the country’s first state law supporting conflict-free sourcing of minerals from Congo. This unprecedented commitment has brought the movement to the next level. The Massachusetts state legislature is also considering a conflict-free bill, introduced by Representative Martin J. Walsh with the strong backing of local advocacy group Congo Action Now.

From college campuses, to city councils, to state governments, the conflict-free movement is a growing campaign that has inspired and empowered people across the country to not only care about the conflict in Congo, but to do something about it. Just as the blood diamonds campaign moved people to action, the conflict-free movement is mobilizing activists to spotlight the consumer connection, and to initiate real change toward peace.