A version of this post originally appeared on the Responsible Endowments Coalition blog.
The world’s deadliest war since World War II has been ravaging eastern Congo for over a decade. Nearly six millions lives have been claimed since 1998 – many due to famine, preventable disease, killings, displacement, and sexual violence. Armed groups use rape as a weapon of war to intimidate, control, and destroy entire communities, leaving hundreds of thousands survivors of sexual violence and displaced populations in their wake.
The conflict stems from long-standing grievances in eastern Congo and the region, a state failing to protect its citizens, and the proliferation of armed groups who thrive in areas where rule of law is weak. What has historical and regional roots, though, today is largely fueled by the illicit trade in Congo’s conflict minerals. Congo’s tin, tungsten, tantalum (the 3Ts) and gold make their way through the global supply chain and find their way into our cell phones, laptops, iPods, and other consumer electronics and end products, and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the militia groups that control the mines.
As responsible global citizens and consumers, we cannot allow our purchases to continue funding armed groups terrorizing communities in eastern Congo. There are solutions, and you as a university student have a powerful role to play.
Because we are the end consumers of Congo’s tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold, we have the power to use our voice and demand that our products are not helping fuel the conflict by influencing U.S. companies and decision makers to take action. In order ensure our purchases aren’t benefiting armed groups, we need these actors to demonstrate leadership in the creation of an international certification system, similar to what we saw with the Kimberley Process for blood diamonds, that will help formalize the mining sector in eastern Congo and create the space for peace. We’ve already started to see companies engage in the processes to trace, audit, and certify their supply chains are conflict-free, but we haven’t seen enough from them yet, and now is the time to up the pressure.
The Conflict-Free Campus Initiative is a growing movement by university students across the country calling on their administrations to pass resolutions that change their procurement policies, use their proxy-voting power, or make strong statements of support in favor of conflict-free electronics. By encouraging your university to publicly support the conflict-free movement, you will not only send a message that you as an individual consumer demand that your electronics products are conflict-free, but also demonstrate that demand through a collective, institutional voice. Universities are especially influential over these electronics companies that have the most control over the supply chain of conflict minerals, both as a large contract-holder and a representative of a highly-coveted demographic of young adults. Companies will have to pay attention, and we can actually bring about a shift in corporate and government policy to help bring peace to Congo.
Tackling the trade in Congo’s conflict minerals is not a silver bullet for peace in the region, but until the incentive to wage war is addressed, violence will continue. Together, we need to cut off the profit lines for these armed groups to create a space that favors peace instead of conflict, opening the space for essential reforms and fostering a minerals trade that delivers more benefits for the Congolese people.
We need your help to grow the demand for conflict-free. The more powerful the cry for change, the faster we’ll see action. Let us know if you are interested in getting involved and passing a conflict-free resolution on your campus by emailing congocampaign[at]enoughproject.org.
Photo: "i-Care about Peace in Congo NOW" poster (Enough/Jonathan Hutson)