Maeve Klersfeld writes about the growing campaign for conflict-free electronics.

Whether we are soldiers, peace activists, or somewhere in between, we are each indirectly contributing to violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) simply because of the materials used in our mobile phones, computers, digital cameras, portable music players, video game consoles, and other electronic goods. The minerals tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold are essential to these products yet we are rarely told where these resources come from: mines in eastern Congo that are worked by forced labour, often including children. Armed groups fight for control of the mines and smuggle the ‘conflict minerals’ out of Congo through neighbouring countries like Uganda where they can be sold to international corporations. Once the minerals are processed for use in electronics, their origin is difficult to trace. We pay these companies for all the fancy gadgets; they pay the commanders of these armed groups for the minerals they need; and the violent control, intimidation, and abuse of the Congolese people continues.

Two wars between 1996 and 2002 left eastern Congo in the hands of various independent armed groups, and despite the Pretoria Accord peace treaty, many refused to coalesce into a single national army so the warring continues. It is the deadliest conflict since World War II, killing 5.4 million people and forcing another 2 million to live as refugees. Rape is used as a weapon of war and abductions of women and girls are common. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 160 women are raped every week in eastern Congo, and a Harvard Humanitarian Initiative study shows that 60% are gang rapes committed by armed men. The national army is responsible for the majority of the violence against women, but every armed group contributes. In essence, we the consumers are paying armies to rape and murder; Nintendo, Apple, Samsung, and other companies are the middle men.

Right now, we have no choice – unless we all boycott modernity and get rid of our electronics. But that isn’t the answer. The Coalition for a Conflict-Free Campus at St Andrews—made up of the university’s activist societies that you know and adore—does not aim to reverse the technological advances that we all undoubtedly enjoy. Our goal is to put St Andrews at the forefront of the plight for a market of conflict-free electronics so that we are no longer forced to be a part of the violence in eastern Congo. If enough individuals and institutions demand that these corporations adhere to monitoring processes that determine where exactly the materials they use come from, they will respond to their consumers’ needs and refuse to use conflict minerals.

On February 21, the St Andrews Students’ Representative Council unanimously approved a resolution to sponsor the Coalition’s formation, but this is just the first step! Go to the Raise Hope for Congo website to learn more about the issue, ‘like’ Coalition for a Conflict-Free St Andrews on Facebook and, most importantly, add your name to our petition.


Maeve Klersfeld

Image credit – Enough Project