April is genocide prevention and awareness month, marking the anniversary of five 20th century genocides: Armenia, the Holocaust, Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda. In the wake of such tragedies, the world responded with the words “Never again!” Yet, in the middle of Africa, millions of Congolese are dying in a conflict fought for the extraction, purchase, and sale of minerals used in our electronics.
In the last 16 years, almost 5.5 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). That is equivalent to the population of Harrisonburg (about 45,000 people) dying each month. Much of this bloodshed is caused by government militias and other armed groups fighting for control of the mines producing the four “conflict minerals:” tungsten, tantalum, tin, and gold. These four minerals are used in every electronic we own. The DRC is incredibly rich in mineral resources, but little to none of that wealth is kept in the pockets of the average Congolese, leaving 80 percent of the population to live in extreme poverty. Mines are often controlled by armed groups who smuggle the minerals out of the country and keep the profits. Once out of the country, it is very difficult to determine where the minerals came from, or the conditions under which they were mined.
As consumers of electronics, we have a responsibility to ensure that our laptops, cell phones, etc. are made conflict-free. This means we need to encourage companies to practice due diligence; they need to work with their suppliers to make sure that they are not financing the ongoing genocide.
Additionally, the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) must pass regulations which require companies to know where their resources originate. As citizens, we have an obligation to contact our Congressmen, the SEC, and electronic companies to let them know that we do not want to contribute to this conflict. As individuals, we can make a difference in ending the genocide.
With pressure from consumers like us, some electronic companies are already taking positive steps toward change. Motorola, for instance, has established a supply chain detailing the origin of the minerals they use. Apple is beginning this process as well, but will not make further changes unless they know that their customers care. Maryland is a great example of awareness turned to action. In the last couple of months, Maryland has passed legislation that restricts contracts the state makes with companies who are not abiding by federal conflict-mineral regulations.
As a Christian organization, we believe that the EMU community has a moral duty to bring awareness to this issue. After attending a weekend conference in D.C. sponsored by Enough Project, the project to end genocide and crimes against humanity, we are compelled to make our own campus conflict-free.
The Conflict-Free Campus Initiative is an Enough Project campaign, currently working on 100 college campuses across the United States to encourage university administrations and stakeholders to make “conflict-free” an honest consideration when purchasing new electronics. Universities are enormous consumers of electronic products, and by taking this stand we can have a larger impact on electronic policy.
To learn more about how you can help with this initiative and to support Enough Project, please join us for the International Student Organization’s annual fundraising dinner on April 14. Be on the lookout for posters detailing this event and other ways you can get involved.
-Josh Kanagy and Julia Schmidt