Written by Anjana Puri
THE WAR OVER CONFLICT MINERALS IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO:
WHAT COLLEGE STUDENTS CAN DO TO TAKE ACTION
BY Anjana Puri
For more than a century, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been plagued by civil unrest and violent regional conflict. Warring rebel groups relentlessly terrorize and exploit innocent Congolese civilians in an effort to gain control of the eastern region’s vast mineral resources. The revenue generated from the trade of these minerals is used to finance armed groups in eastern Congo, many of which engage in systematic campaigns of sexual violence in order to intimidate local populations and maintain control over mines. Since 1998, the conflict has claimed over 5.4 million lives and has displaced over 2 million people. With an estimated 45,000 people dying every month, the United Nations has described the brutal conflict in eastern DRC as one of the “worst humanitarian crises in the world.” 1
The region’s mineral trade is one of the underlying forces perpetuating the conflict. Armed rebel groups earn hundreds of millions of dollars each year by trading four minerals: the ores that make tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold. Armed groups sell these minerals to American companies at competitive prices. The minerals are eventually used to make common electronic devices including: cellular phones, laptops, cameras, portable music players, and televisions. The revenue generated from these sales enables armed groups in DRC to buy more weapons and further exploit Congolese civilians. Lack of transparency in the “conflict mineral” supply chain prevents American consumers from knowing whether or not their purchases are indirectly funding mass atrocities in DRC.
While the situation in the eastern region of DRC seems bleak, it is not hopeless. In 2009, the Conflict Minerals Trade Act was introduced into the US House of Representatives. If adopted into law, the bill will demand greater transparency from electronic companies that purchase conflict minerals in order to ensure that the revenue generated from these sales is not being used to support Congolese rebel groups. As conscious consumers, we have an obligation to demand greater social responsibility from electronics companies to ensure that the objects we purchase are conflict mineral-free. By encouraging our political representatives to endorse this bill, we can ensure that our purchases are not indirectly perpetuating mass atrocities in the DRC.
College students, in particular, can play a special role in the movement to bring peace to Congo. Universities are among the biggest clients of electronic companies. By altering their institutions’ procurement policies to express favor towards doing business with vendors of “conflict mineral-free” products, colleges around the country can ensure that their purchases do not indirectly contribute to the exploitation of Congolese civilians.
Last June, students at Stanford University encouraged their school’s administration to adopt proxy-voting guidelines that encourage Stanford’s investment partners to further investigate their conflict-mineral supply chains. In doing so, Stanford University became the first “conflict mineral-free campus” in America. The students who championed the issue are hopeful that other universities will follow suit. In fact, students at the UCLA Law School have recently started a campaign to make their campus conflict-mineral free.
Organizations such as Enough Project and Jewish World Watch have started programs designed to help students start similar campaigns at their respective schools. To get more information about how to make your campus conflict mineral-free, please visit: www.raisehopeforcongo.org/content/initiatives/make-your-campus-conflict-free