Raise Hope For Congo talk to Critical Gamer

Whether you’re aware of it or not, there is a disturbing link between our hobby and so called ‘conflict minerals’. Raise Hope For Congo – a campaign from the Enough project which is tackling the issue head on – were good enough to answer some questions for us. They tell us what the problem is, how they are asking us all to help; and why they believe that we can make a difference.

CG: What are ‘conflict minerals’ and why should we care?

Raise Hope For Congo: Congo’s conflict minerals are the ores that produce the metals tin, tantalum, and tungsten—which we refer to as the 3 Ts—as well as gold. Congo is rich in these lucrative resources and many Congolese civilians rely on mining for their livelihood. However, various armed militia and rebel groups, as well as rogue units of the Congolese army, take control of the mines by force and tax the mineral trading routes, ravaging the country and the Congolese people. Women are particularly targeted through horrific forms of sexual violence. In the last decade in Congo, five million people have been killed and hundreds of tens of thousands of women raped.

The same minerals that fund such armed groups and perpetuate their power can be found in many of our electronic devices—cellphones, laptops, video game systems, digital cameras, and more. This direct link between war in the Congo and the electronics we rely on gives us enormous power as consumers to demand change. By raising our collective voice as consumers, we can end the conflict minerals trade and help bring peace to Congo.

CG: How do these minerals come to be used in the production of electronics such as PCs, Macs, and game consoles?

RHFC: After Congolese miners extract these minerals, the 3Ts and gold make their way to trading houses where they are sent to exporters to be shipped out of Congo. They are also often smuggled across the border into neighboring Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda. From there the minerals are sent to smelters, primarily in East Asia, who convert the minerals into metal form. Finally, the metals are distributed all over the world, including to the United States, where they are used to produce components for common electronic devices.

CG: What responses, if any, have you received from Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony on the matter? Are these responses satisfactory?

RHFC: Some companies, like Nintendo, have declined to send any formal response to our attempt to engage and work with them to combat the issue while other companies have been more willing to recognize the problem and begin to take steps to address the use of conflict minerals in their supply chains. Sony Ericsson and Microsoft, have responded by pointing to their existing supplier codes of conduct and have downplayed their ability to control of the use of conflict minerals in their products. While we’re sure that none of these companies want to indirectly contribute to the brutalization and exploitation of Congolese civilians, they’ve allowed themselves to rely solely on the “good word” of their suppliers and failed to do their due diligence and trace and audit the minerals used in their products. This simply isn’t adequate. In order to be deemed credible and conflict-free, these companies must adopt a comprehensive strategy to trace, audit, and certify the minerals in their products as conflict-free.

CG: Can you explain your e mail campaign?

RHFC:The Enough Project’s Raise Hope for Congo campaign has an email campaign to the top 21 electronic companies that likely use conflict minerals in their products. The purpose and goal of this action is to demonstrate to these companies that their consumers want the option to buy conflict-free products. It is our ultimate hope that industry leaders will emerge on the issue when they realize that there is a growing consumer market and financial incentive for them to take the necessary steps and offer certifiably conflict-free products.

CG: Many people are doubtful that e mailing these companies will have any effect at all. Is there really a chance that filling out this online form will make a difference?

RHFC:We believe it already has made a difference. Through executive outreach and consumer pressure (like those emails) the Enough Project has been able to open up a dialogue with several companies about how to begin the process of certifying their products as conflict-free. In addition to these successes, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, also directly responded to a consumer who wrote him asking about Apple’s efforts to address the problem (http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/30/steve-jobs-statement-on-conflict-minerals/). This clearly demonstrates that the emails and consumer pressure have reached the top levels of electronics companies and have forced them to address the use of conflict minerals in their products.

The U.S. Congress also took a major step forward this year by passing legislation in the Wall Street Reform bill that will require major electronics and other manufacturing companies to find out where they get their minerals from, and to audit to ensure they are not benefiting armed groups. Requiring companies to do their own research into the supplier chain, rather than relying on mere assurances from their suppliers, is a tremendous step toward the introduction of certified conflict free products.

CG: Is it feasible to regulate and legalize the mining of these minerals in conflict areas?

RHFC: Yes, but it will take real work to bring an end to the conflict minerals trade. The Congo conflict minerals problem requires a comprehensive strategy, which must include serious policy action by the international community, the Congolese government, the United Nations, and NGOs – on issues of land tenure, security, governance, rule of law, and livelihoods. Fortunately, the work to regulate Congo’s mineral trade is already underway, and key players like the Enough Project are willing to see it through.

Additionally, we have already seen a successful model play out in recent years. A decade ago, wars in Sierra Leone, Angola, and Liberia were being fueled by the illegal trade in blood diamonds. With a comprehensive response by the international community which included setting up a certification system, the conflict diamond trade was significantly reduced and these countries now experience a degree of peace and stability as a result. The obvious parallel to the conflict minerals campaign is that when key stakeholders come together to address the causes of violence instead of just treating the symptoms, that peace is possible to achieve.

CG: Were electronic companies to stop using conflict minerals from the Congo, how would that improve the lives of those living there?

RHFC: Ending the conflict in eastern Congo is the best way to help the Congolese people recover from more than a decade of suffering and violence. A critical aspect of this effort is severing the link between the minerals trade and the armed groups committing atrocities in Congo. But a comprehensive approach is required to improve the Congolese mining sector, one that improves livelihoods for miners and complements corporate responsibility.

Artisanal miners work in extremely difficult conditions in eastern Congo and earn an average of $1-5 per day, largely because the armed groups extract such enormous profits on the backs of their labor. Efforts to end the conflict minerals trade are meant to help the industry differentiate between legal and illegal mining—which is built on brutality, extortion, and slave labor including the use of children.

The status quo is simply unacceptable given the situation and doing nothing is not an option.

CG: Where else can companies source these minerals from? How much more expensive would alternative sources prove to be?

RHFC: The percentages of the global supply of the 3Ts coming from Congo is relatively small, from one percent to 12 percent, depending on the specific mineral. Tantalum is temporarily much higher, at approximately 30 percent, because the largest supplier of tantalum, Australia, recently suspended production. Major alternative sources of these minerals include:

Tin: China, Indonesia, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil
Tantalum: Australia, Brazil, Canada
Tungsten: China, Russia, Canada
Gold: South Africa, Australia, the United States, China

It is important to note that the Enough Project is not calling for a ban or boycott of Congolese minerals, which would hurt miners. Instead, we encourage the development of legitimate, conflict-free mineral supplies from Congo through the development of tracing and auditing.

CG: What plans do Raise Hope for Congo have for the future?

RHFC: Raise Hope for Congo is continuing to promote a holistic approach to ending violence in eastern Congo. There are numerous factors we see as essential to peace and stability in Congo, from security sector reform to justice and accountability, from ensuring a more transparent process for returning refugees to devising an effective strategy to dismantle the FDLR and Congo’s many other militia groups. We recognize that the conflict has several driving forces, including the trade in illicit conflict minerals.

We are continuing to raise awareness about the link between consumer electronics and violence in Congo. We want to show electronics companies that there is strong consumer demand for conflict-free electronics and pressure them to clean up their supply chains.

As part of this effort, we are formulating a report for consumer reference which will be released this fall that ranks top electronics companies based on their efforts to support the conflict-free movement and start the process of cleaning up their supply chains in Congo. The companies will be ranked in a way that informs consumers which companies are working toward corporate responsibility and which companies are lagging behind. It is our hope that this ranking system will be a good start in helping consumers discriminate between companies – incentivizing forward leaning companies and punishing those that are not adequately addressing the issue.

We are also launching a Conflict-Free Campus Initiative with partners, that encourages students of higher education institutions to call on their board of directors to pass a resolution that publicly expresses their support for conflict-free electronics. This will demonstrate a powerful institutional demand to electronics companies in addition to the thousands of individual consumers who have already taken action.

We hope that this has inspired you to help. If so – or if you simply want to find out more about Raise Hope For Congo – head to http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org/ for more information, and a link to their e mail campaign.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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