As people around the world become more mindful of the raw materials and labor that go into our electronics, jewelry, and other products, consumers have come to expect accountability for human rights violations. Savvy consumers of cell phones, laptops, music players and digital cameras have become increasingly aware of the situation in eastern Congo, where the deadliest conflict since World War II continues today. The conflict started over long-standing grievances with neighboring countries. Congo is home to mines rich in natural resources, including four conflict minerals: gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum. Today, militias fight to control the trade in conflict minerals. They yield hundreds of millions of dollars annually, using profits to fund mass atrocities and armed groups generally operate without accountability. Since 1996, countless men, women and children have been raped and over 5.4 million people have died from war-related causes. While Congo’s wars officially ended in 2003, the violence rages on today and nearly 2 million people live as refugees or in displacement camps.
Conflict minerals are often smuggled out of Congo through neighboring countries, then shipped to processers around the world for refinement. Once minerals are refined, it becomes difficult to trace their origin. Systems for traceability and certification of supply chains are needed to prevent conflict minerals from making their way into consumer products that we rely on every day.
As one of the largest investors in Africa’s mining sector, Canada has a responsibility to lead in the efforts for conflictfree minerals. There needs to be a demand for responsible sourcing of minerals from Congo so that the minerals trade benefits communities, rather than warlords. Just like buying organic produce and Fair Trade coffee, and certification of conflict-free diamonds, consumers should be able to shop for conflict-free electronics.
In July 2010, the U.S. passed a provision in a financial accountability law, the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires companies to take responsibility for their supply chains in eastern Congo and its neighbors. New rules would require any company that manufactures a product in which minerals are material to production to trace and audit their supply chains with an independent adviser, who will go through their operations to ensure that minerals used are conflict-free. Since the law’s passage, some companies have taken steps to invest in ethical mining in eastern Congo, but much work remains to be done.
Canada is also pursuing due diligence legislation that would require companies to trace their supply chains, and Europe is in the process of developing similar legislation. The move toward international legislation is an important first step to end the trade of conflict minerals. However, for any efforts to be sustainable, there must be a system that certifies all minerals coming out of the region as conflict-free. There must also be efforts to end impunity.
The Enough Project’s Raise Hope for Congo Campaign works to end the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo, by building a permanent and diverse constituency of activists who advocate for the human rights of all Congolese people. The team works tirelessly to help work on solutions. Actress and activist Robin Wright has been personally involved in the struggle for peace for the people in Congo for years. Sharing a genuine affection for Congo and its people, Robin and the Raise Hope for Congo team traveled to eastern Congo to speak with former child soldiers, and survivors of rape and torture, to ensure their stories are heard.

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