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The Corporate Connection to Crimes Against Humanity in Congo

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The Corporate Connection to Crimes Against Humanity in Congo

Posted by David Sullivan on April 24, 2009

The Corporate Connection to Crimes Against Humanity in Congo

Enough’s latest strategy paper, “A Comprehensive Approach to Congo’s Conflict Minerals,” proposes a new strategy to sever the links between the trade in valuable minerals essential to everyday electronics products such as cell phones and the ongoing crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, home to the worst sexual violence in the world.

In eastern Congo, the same armed groups that reap enormous profits from the mineral trade regularly commit conscience-shocking atrocities as they jockey to control the region’s most valuable mines. The four most profitable ores produce the metals tin, tantalum and tungsten—the 3Ts— and gold, which together generate as much as $183 million annually for armed groups. Without alternative sources of income, these miners and their families remain virtually enslaved to armed groups and the conflict minerals trade.

The international community has spent billions of dollars on elections and peacekeeping in Congo but has largely ignored the primary economic driver of the conflict. The Congolese government lacks the capacity and political will to combat corruption and legitimize its mineral wealth, and Congo’s neighbors—including Rwanda and Uganda—have often encouraged continued instability in Congo because they also profit from the illicit trade. A renewed cooperative approach between Congo and its neighbors to establish legitimate trading mechanisms could offer the best prospects of a long-term solution.

The complexities surrounding this conflict prove that there is no silver bullet solution. However, if the international community and regional actors work in conjunction with the private sector to align their efforts around the common goal of a revitalized legitimate mineral trade in eastern Congo, long-term efforts could have a major impact in resolving the conflict. There are four main components to a new strategy for such efforts:

1. Shining a light on the supply chain. Push electronics companies— the principal end-users of the 3Ts and gold—to change the way they practice business by working together with their suppliers to create a tracing system paired with credible monitoring of the system by independent third parties. This would provide a critical step towards demanding greater accountability for corporate behavior and transparency. With 80 percent of consumer electronics companies trading on U.S. stock markets, U.S.-based activists have some of the most powerful opportunities for leverage on this part of the supply chain.

2. Identifying and securing strategic mines. The United Nations should collaborate with the Congolese government to identify key mining sites under the control of armed groups. Properly integrated Congolese security forces, supported by U.N. peacekeepers, should secure these sites and transit routes. This approach must be grounded in a more comprehensive and coherent effort to advance broad security sector reform in Congo.

3. Reforming governance. The international community should work hand in hand with the Congolese government to exercise control over mining and commerce in eastern Congo. With Congo sorely in need of international funds, there is an opportunity to press for not just commitments but demonstrable reforms to the regulation of mining, commerce, and taxation.

4. Supporting livelihoods and economic opportunities for miners. Impoverished Congolese miners and their families are dependent upon their meager incomes and have few viable economic alternatives. Efforts to end the trade in conflict minerals absolutely must be accompanied by international support for livelihoods and economic opportunities in eastern Congo.

Congo’s conflict minerals problem is complex, but the roadmap to a solution exists. But efforts won’t succeed unless individual consumers in the United States and around the world step up and demand a change. Calling or emailing top electronics manufacturers and telling them to ensure that their products are conflict-free will help to create the conditions necessary to end the war in Congo. You can also ensure that your voice is heard by endorsing our Conflict Minerals Pledge.