This oped originally appeared on Huffington Post.
This Valentine's Day, as many of us give and receive gifts of flowers, chocolate, or jewelry, I can't help but wonder if the gold jewelry for sale could be connected to a war halfway around the world.
In eastern Congo, the world's deadliest conflict since WWII rages, and more than five million people have died from war-related causes. The conflict gold trade in eastern Congo has become a very lucrative business for some of the armed groups perpetuating the conflict, many of whom use coercion and violence to secure control of the mines and strategic trade routes.
Sadly, the majority of people who are most negatively affected by the conflict gold trade are Congolese civilians — particularly women and children. Tens of thousands of the miners working in harsh and dangerous conditions are children as young as 11 years gold, and mass rape of women is used by armed groups that profit from gold as a strategic weapon of war.
After watching the Enough Project's new "Raise Hope for Congo" video, I was appalled that in some small way, the jewelry I wear every day could be part of the problem.
However, the jewelry industry could be a part of the solution. The jewelry industry is the world's largest gold consumer and has significant influence over the global trade. If jewelry companies took the lead on investing in conflict-free gold from the Congo, then, as consumers, we could buy jewelry that would benefit local communities rather than armed groups. This could help to greatly reduce profits for warlords and provide paid jobs for miners who have traditionally been exploited. There are new conflict-free gold projects in eastern Congo, but they need a market to work, and this is where jewelers can come in.
Over the past couple of years, I have been part of the growing conflict-free movement calling on electronics companies to clean up their supply chains. Electronics companies are major consumers of tin, tungsten, and tantalum — the other three conflict minerals that are funding armed groups in eastern Congo. Although it has been an uphill battle, we have seen significant progress and innovative conflict-free initiatives from companies that have already had positive impact on the ground in Congo.
The Motorola Solutions for Hope Project and Philips' Conflict-Free Tin Initiative have proven that wages can increase for Congolese miners, and everyone can benefit. But gold is still left out of the equation — for now.
As Valentine's Day approaches, it is time to reach out to jewelry companies and ask them to take the lead on similar conflict-free projects. That way when loved ones buy us a conflict-free gold necklace with gold from Congo next Valentine's Day, we can be sure that its profits are supporting communities in eastern Congo, and not warlords.
So what do you think, jewelry companies? Will you make my next Valentine's Day conflict-free?
Emmanuelle Chriqui (@echriqui), who is most well-known for her role in the HBO series Entourage, is a long-time Congo human rights activist.
Photo: Emmanuelle Chriqui at Raise Hope for Congo event in Los Angeles (Getty Images)