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Fashioning a Trend for Human Rights in Congo

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Fashioning a Trend for Human Rights in Congo

Posted by Emmanuelle Chriqui on March 2, 2012

This piece first appeared on Huffington Post.

New York City Fashion Week is always filled with the latest styles, hottest designers and the who's who in the fashion industry. So when Gen Art asked me to host its fashion show this spring, I saw it as an opportunity to promote emerging fashion artists, and support a cause that has been very close to my heart—the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa's largest nation.

The humanitarian crisis in Congo is the deadliest since World War II and has claimed nearly 6 million lives. Armed groups compete for control over mines in Eastern Congo, and use rape and violence as a way to intimidate local communities. Women and girls are constantly at risk of attack, and little has been done to change this.

So, what does fashion have to do with the crisis in Congo? Well, everything. The fashion industry has always been on the cutting edge, setting new trends and breaking the mold that helps shape where society is going next. The Gen Art fashion show, which showcased up-and-coming designers, such as Zac Posen and Phillip Lim, benefitted the Enough Project's Raise Hope for Congo campaign and included models sporting Congo t-shirts, which Sarah Hall of The Huffington Post said was the best thing that happened on a catwalk all week.

The fashion industry has long been recognized for identifying trends, and can play a powerful role in promoting social change. Gen Art CEO Marc Lottenberg recognized the growing activism movement for human rights in Congo and spotlighted the Raise Hope for Congo campaign during the Gen Art fashion show front and center. The link between the fashion world and human rights, though, goes beyond a single event and transcends the hustle and bustle of New York City Fashion Week.

This connection of us, as U.S. consumers, to the people of Congo can be traced to the smartphones and electronics in our pockets that are produced using conflict minerals sourced from eastern Congo. These minerals provide funding to armed groups and continue to fuel the rape and conflict inflicted on the local Congolese people.

It is time to bridge the gap between the suffering in Congo, and American consumers. We have the power to pressure companies to clean up their supply chains and not source from mines controlled by armed groups. We can demand that our electronics products be conflict-free.

The fashion industry has joined an emerging trend of activism for human rights in Congo that has recently taken hold and gained momentum across the country in the form of a conflict-free movement. The Raise Hope for Congo campaign has been at the forefront of this movement, working with states, cities, colleges and universities, and companies to spread awareness and create a shift toward electronics products that no longer fund violence in Congo.

Like fashion, technology is at the cutting edge and has significant impact within our own lives. Technology connects us and our ideas to our friends, family, and the world. So the last thing we want is for our electronics products to be a source of harm to women and girls in Congo. Help bring about change, and sign on to a petition from a Congolese activist asking Apple CEO Tim Cook to create conflict-free electronics products using minerals from eastern Congo. The people of Congo have suffered long enough. Join this latest trend in activism and become a sentinel for human rights and peace in Congo.