The insatiable demand for technological devices in the United States, and elsewhere, is affecting the lives of millions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC has witnessed one of the deadliest conflicts since World War II with an estimated 5 million lives lost in the last decade. The perpetrators of the violence are armed militia groups profiting from the sale of four main minerals – gold and the 3 Ts of tin, tungsten, and tantalum. Please watch this brief video explaining the connection between technology and the war in the DRC.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) first introduced a bipartisan bill two years ago to end the trade of conflict minerals yet the policy window was not open at this time. The Enough Project proved instrumental in sparking a grassroots consumer awareness campaign resulting in the placement of conflict minerals on the public and policy agenda.
Recently, Sen. Brownback introduced language on conflict minerals as part of the pending financial reform legislation. The amendment seeks accountability and transparency from companies to ensure they avoid the use of conflict minerals. Each company purchasing minerals near the Congo would be required to audit the respective mine to assure compliance with human rights. The current system of simply asking “Did you get the minerals from a conflict area?” is greatly disturbing and highly unlikely to produce truthful responses.
It is crucial that companies realize their part in the long cycle of abuse in the DRC and seek conflict free mines. Estimates by tech companies reveal a cost of 1 penny per product for conflict free supply chains. This really is not that big of a financial loss for companies profiting from the hands of individuals in the DRC who do not make enough money to even purchase the products in which the minerals are used. The good news is that a few companies, Intel and Motorola, have already taken steps to ensure their supply chain is conflict free.
A holistic approach addressing all of the causal factors of the conflict in the Congo will be needed to end the long history of violence. Arguments have been made, and justly so, that if companies seek conflict free minerals, workers in the DRC could lose their only source of income. There is no easy solution on this issue but I would agree that we should not go forward as if the West has all the right answers on ending the conflict. That being said, critics hailing U.S. legislative efforts as pointless are severely missing the point as failing to address the issue turns a blind eye to our role in the ongoing conflict.
YOU can make a difference by adding your voice to the shout for conflict free products. Any act towards peace and justice in the region gives me hope for the future.