Conflict Minerals in the Congo

Overview of Conflict Minerals in the Congo:

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to the world’s deadliest conflict since WWII.  Over 5.4 million people have lost their lives in the last fifteen years.  The conflict in the Congo has many different aspects.  It began largely because of ethnic tensions, political strife, and land rights.  However, this conflict has evolved into a conflict of profit that is largely fueled by the mineral rich mines in the eastern part of the country.  The DRC is one of the richest places in the world in terms of natural resources.  Eastern Congo has a wealth of minerals including Tin, Tungsten, Tantalum, and Gold.  All of these minerals are integral parts of the electronics we as consumers use everyday such as our laptops and cell phones.   Over 50% of the mines in eastern Congo are managed by various rebel and militia groups.  These armed groups use tactics such as rape in order to control populations to force people off of their land and to find cheap laborers.  Congo is the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman or a child.  The armed groups require high taxes to enter the mines and thus make even more profit off of the minerals.  Much of the profit that is made from the minerals is used to buy arms that further perpetuate the conflict in Congo.

This flow chart delineates the supply chain of "conflict minerals."

Section 1502 of the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform Act passed by Congress in July of 2010 requires companies to trace and audit their supply chains to ensure that they are not financing conflict in the Congo.  However the Security Exchanges Commission (SEC) has not released the guidelines for companies to follow.  Therefore, companies have largely been held unaccountable and many continue to fund the deadly conflict in the Congo.  Some companies such as Nokia and Motorola have taken progressive initiatives on forging the path forward in making “conflict-free” products.

 

The Enough Project's Company Rankings on Progress Towards Becoming "Conflict Free"

Conflict Mineral Activism:

A number of non-governmental organizations and activists in America and around the world have started to rally behind making the mines in Congo “conflict-free.”  The two biggest voices in this initiative have been the Enough Project and Global Witness.  Both organizations have multi-pronged approaches including collaboration with grassroots initiatives on civil society organizations on the ground, influencing policy at the national level, and mobilizing activists around the world to create a consumer demand for “conflict free” products.  One of the biggest campaigns that the Enough Project has organized is called the Conflict Free Campus Initiative (CFCI). The goal of this campaign is to harness the buying power of the university in order to influence electronic companies to clean up their supply chains.  Eight universities including Stanford, Clark, and UPenn have passed varied resolutions stating that the university wants and will favor a conflict free product upon its creation. City and state legislatures such as Pittsburgh and California have passed similar resolutions.  This campaign and the idea of creating a market for “conflict-free” products is slowly but surely finding its way into mainstream media.

Why is Conflict Mineral Activism an Alternative to Globalization?

The activism that has emerged from the conflict mineral issue in the Congo is a powerful example of a potential alternative to globalization.  What much of the activism advocates for is harnessing the powers of globalization in order to create a more just social order.  By creating a consumer demand for products that promote justice, this type of activism envisions a world where capitalism can exist while not marginalizing large groups of people.