Is your phone fueling conflicts in DRC?


Blog article by Ronald Chawatama

Animus Sustainability Portal (http://sustainabilityblog.animus-csr.com/)

The world today is more connected than it was even 20 years ago, and at the center of it is mobile technology. Mobile technology has changed rapidly and with it so has the way of our life, from how we socialise, network and even carry our day. The luxury tech-market presents us with a diverse choice of phones from those with slick thin surfaces, spotless screens and more.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) the situation is completely different despite the fact that the country is the source for minerals used in our gadgets. As if the glaring disparities weren’t enough, the country is still recovering from a conflict known as Africa’s first world war where nine countries fought on its soil. The war led to loss of more than five million lives between 1994 and 2003. Although the war was declared over in 2003, the eastern parts of the country remain unstable and prone to continuous attacks by rebel groups. People are generally subjected to inhumane treatment, child labour, slavery and rampant rape of both women and children amongst other ills.

The DRC, located in central Africa has large deposits of minerals that include gold, coltan, cobalt, tin, tungsten, tantalum, the “3Ts”. The 3Ts, coltan and cobalt are the most lucrative. These minerals are used in manufacturing of phones and are highly sought after. Unfortunately, the trade in such minerals is helping sustain armed violence in eastern part of the country. The causal link between the conflicts in DRC and the regions mineral trade has been put forward by the British Global Witness and the American Enough Project.

Whether this causal link is weak or conflates other complex factors, it remains a fact that there is rampant raping of women and disregard of human rights. Unfortunately, children are not spared as most are made to work in mines for less than a dollar per day.

Rebel soldiers closely monitor sifting of minerals in DRC

The children work in the most perilous conditions, exposed to dust and hard labour to power batteries used in phones. As of 2012, nearly 40 000 children were reported to be working in mines, according to statistics from UNICEF.

Companies complicit in trade of conflict minerals

Various major international companies are directly or indirectly involved in the trade of conflict minerals from DRC. Apart from sourcing minerals from existing large mines that are complicit in child labour and fueling rebel activities, International companies have also made large investments in eastern Congo’s mines. Afrimex, a UK based minerals trader, was once accused   by Global Witness of contributing to armed conflict and human suffering in eastern Congo through trading with the semi-autonomous groups in the military.

Man holds pebbles likely to contain 3Ts

Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese mineral company Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd (Huayou Cobalt) is one of the largest mining supplying conflict cobalt. Research by Amnesty International group showed that CDM sources more than 40% of its cobalt from the DRC and processes the raw mineral before selling it to battery makers manufacturers in China and South Korea, who claim to supply companies including Apple, Microsoft and Vodafone.

The foreign investments could otherwise be used to reform the country’s security, health, and education sectors.

Where does the responsibility lie?

Should the burden of ethical sourcing lie with companies? Most often companies would argue that they have complex supply chains with multiple layers of suppliers. It should however be common sense for companies to take due diligence when dealing with suppliers from countries struggling with conflict. Where companies fail to effect responsible trading, they risk funding serious abuses overseas.

Advocacy

The civil conflict in DRC since the 1990s caught the attention of western advocacy. Prominent organisations with a constitutional interest in the DRC include Global watch, Enough Project and Amnesty International. Their work is primarily focused on unveiling illicit flows, infringement on human rights, slavery and trade of conflict minerals impacting on their targeted constituency (DRC people). Yes, some might argue that the relationship between western Advocacy and NGOs and their marketed constituency might be tenuous but they at-least stimulate dialogue and change in policy.

The advocacy groups have achieved unprecedented success in their western constituency to help restore peace and put a stop to the use of conflict minerals. One of the key success of the campaign was the passage of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act U.S.A  in July 2010.

Their work has not been without criticism especially in the recent years. Apparently there is a coalition of local DRC expert’s alluding to the fact the work of the movement is actually ‘fueling’ the conflict and subsequent use of conflict minerals. Despite the myriad and complexity of factors fueling and perpetuating the rebel activities in DRC, there is no one solution that can be prescribed as best.

To say the recently effected Dodd-Frank act is causing more harm is tantamount to saying the status quo (raping of women and children, the killings) should continue to prevail. Isnt it surprising that the so-called experts were born bred and raised in the DRC, and with the claim that they know the issues at hand better, why aren’t we nearing an end to the conflict? Since the 1994, Rwanda genocide, we are more than aware of the way central regional politics is at play to influence governance in DRC. Cant the said expert group find political solution since they argue that there is a weak link between conflict minerals and the current rebel activities in the east of the country?

We are by no means saying the ‘less or more’ being achieved through advocacy is the best but certainly it is a drive towards doing the right thing. No business should benefit from impoverishment, killing and or rape of women and children.

Activism

There has been a growing number of celebrities and sports stars that are engaged with Enough Project. Some of the celebrities involved include, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Emile Hirsch, Ryan Gosling, Iman, Julianne Moore, Brooke Smith and Ken Baumann adding their voices.

It takes more than a heart to fight causes that aren’t of our making and with less impact to our immediate life. It is without doubt that some extra ordinary people take other people’s plight to be theirs and seek for solutions. Adding to the list of Enough Project celebrities is The House of Cards television star Robin Wright.


Robin Wright is running the StandWithCongo Campaign

Robin Wright, JD Stier, the president of the social activism organization Stier Forward, created the #StandWithCongo campaign to get mining entities to disclose the beneficial owners of offshore companies that are profiting from these mining deals. The campaign is also piling pressure on the DRC and western governments to ensure that companies disclose their business in the country. With increase pressure it is likely that human rights of Congolese will be respected and that more revenue finds its way to the national treasure. Wright produced and narrated a new film, When Elephants Fight, to shine a light on the issue. The film will play at 50 university campuses across the U.S. The targeted demographic are large purchasers  electronic gadgets electronics and powerful spokespersons who are likely to spread the campaign.

Legislation

The USA is one of the first countries to legislate against conflict minerals originating from the DRC. In 2010, the USA passed the financial regulatory reform law by requiring companies to disclose their use of “conflict minerals.” The law demands that any company using or trading resources that may have come from conflict areas should carry out what is now known as risk-based due diligence.

Due diligence requires companies to thoroughly checks their supply chains and identify and risks that they may be funding harm through their activities. Further reporting on such risks and mechanisms put in place helps show consumers and local communities that they are committed to sourcing responsibly and sustainably.

One would also expect the African Union as a governing body to respond either through the Africa Mining Vision or other organs and put in places laws that curb trade in conflict minerals. So far there isn’t any sign that such laws are in the pipeline. Elsewhere, despite Europe being a major player in the global trade in minerals but there isn’t any law to ensure they are sourced responsibly. The burden now lies on consumers who find it hard to know whether their purchases are funding conflict, armed groups or human rights abuses overseas.

Without a doubt whilst our phones and gadgets are indispensable, we also can’t dispense with the rights of the men, women and children whose labour powers our phones. Any person governed by ethical standards would be appalled to think that children as young as seven carrying out back-breaking work for 12 hours a day could be involved at some point in the making of our phones.  We don’t have start our single campaigns, we could rally with the #StandWithCongo and make a difference.


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