Inspired by an internship with the Enough Project in 2008, I came home to Canada to raise awareness of the link between Canadians and the war in eastern Congo. Gradually, interest in the connection between conflict in Congo and consumer electronics has been growing in Ottawa.
In September 2009, Parliament’s multi-partisan Genocide Prevention Group issued a break-through report urging Canadian politicians to “formulate and pass legislation for ‘rape-free phones’ and other rape-free products.” To keep the momentum going, I wrote op-eds in local newspapers and university media, gave presentations, encouraged people to write to electronics companies and their Members of Parliament, coordinated with like-minded organizations, and met with my MP to encourage her to introduce tough conflict minerals legislation in Canada.
After a trip to eastern Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces and Africa’s Great Lakes region in 2010, I kept up the pressure on my government to address this massive problem as soon as I got back to Canada. To streamline our efforts and better engage politicians and the public, a few colleagues and I founded a non-profit organization, the Centre for African Development and Security, or CADS, to promote awareness and action on this and other challenges affecting the African continent, as well as to raise funds to support a farming cooperative in South Kivu’s fertile Ruzizi Valley. Encouraged by the passing of the conflict minerals provisions in the U.S. Dodd-Frank bill last July, I met with my MP, Joyce Murray, to urge her to draft similar legislation for Canada. Although my MP was a Liberal during a Conservative government, and that bills from opposition MPs rarely even come to a vote, she nonetheless requested that I draft a motion on the topic for her consideration. At the same time, the MP Paul Dewar introduced C-571, the first Congo conflict minerals bill in Parliament.
To complement this bill, the motion for Hon. Murray recommended that companies selling products containing the 3Ts and gold in Canada must trace and audit their supply chains for these minerals. It also recommended that the Canadian government explore charging an independent monitoring body with a mandate to certify and label products that have been determined to be ‘Congo conflict-free,’ so consumers can know at the point of purchase which products are certifiably not fueling violence in the Congo – much like organic, fair-trade, and dolphin-safe labeling. Bolstered by growing interest from other MPs and Canadian newspapers, Hon. Murray introduced the motion in December into the House of Commons as M-607.
With the previous Parliament dissolved and the federal elections recently taking place, Hon. Murray and Hon. Dewar’s motion and bill will have to be reintroduced. We are hopeful that parliamentarians from all political parties can work together to draft and pass meaningful and effective conflict minerals legislation; several MPs from different parties have already indicated their intention to do so.
While expanding our advocacy efforts with other Canadian NGOs to add pressure on the federal government, we’ve extended our campaign to the municipal level and are pushing on my city, Vancouver, do its part in helping to end the conflict in eastern Congo. Vancouver recently adopted an Ethical Purchasing Policy, or EPP, which guides the city in buying items not made in sweatshops or with child or forced labor, which provides an opening for our conflict minerals advocacy. I met with city councillors to encourage them to broaden its EPP to include conflict-free sourcing, similar to recent efforts in Pennsylvania.
The city’s women’s advisory committee has taken the important step forward to vote on a motion at their upcoming meeting this month to recommend that the city add a section to its EPP to ensure that the city’s purchases of electronic products and other equipment do “not contribute to conflicts, atrocities, or sexual violence, committed by armed groups or a country’s armed forces, in the Congo and elsewhere, by only purchasing from companies that verifiably do not source materials that may ultimately support gross human rights violations.” If the committee passes the motion, it will then be up to a city councilor to push it into law.
Join our efforts in promoting peace and development so Canada can play a key role in ending the deadly link between electronics and large-scale violence in eastern Congo.
Greg Queyranne is president and co-founder of the Canadian non-profit Centre for African Development and Security.