Blood-free tin.

The ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative (iTSCi) is making an effort to try and eradicate conflict metals from the tin industry. The extraction of raw materials in many parts of the world funds extreme acts of violence; war crimes, crimes against humanity, mass murder, rape, torture, enslavement, the recruitment of child soldiers, mass abuse and displacement of people.  The complexity of manufacturing modern products means that each item has most likely traveled around the globe making many stops along the way.  This makes it harder for companies to know exactly what happened at each stop and the effect their product has had on human beings along the way.

ITRI is a non-profit organization that represents tin miners and smelters, created to promote a positive image of the tin industry and ensure its best interests are represented. The ITSCi was designed to investigate the performance of the tin industry and ensure a higher standard of care that would trace the tin from the mine to the smelter, much like the Kimberly Process does for diamonds.

July 2009 saw the implementation of ITSCi Phase 1, a comprehensive due diligence plan for tin extracted in the DR Congo. Phase 2 which just began to begin to track and provide more precise sourcing locations for tin mined in eastern DRC. Pilot mines sites in North and South Kivu have been chosen to integrate into the trading scheme, with expectations of expansion after the first six months across 4 provinces of the DRC (North and South Kivu, Maniema, and Katanga). It’s a start, but nearly not enough to ensure the eradication of conflict tin in the marketplace.

This pilot supply chain project is being eyed by both the Tantalum and Niobuim Information Center (TIC) who eventually intend to include coltan in the study. Hopefully other extractive industries will soon follow and begin take their own initiatives to stop funding violence. The vagueness within the corporate policies and laws and lack of investigation and enforcement capabilities to regulate the laws, leave the extractive industries seemingly decades away from evoking true change in practices. Long-term secure funding and precise laws is necessary to ensure this project goes from pilot to change in real practice. Currently several major corporations are contributing the $600K necessary to run the ITSCi pilot. Considering the profit made from products using tin in the past year, this $600K is merely a drop in the bucket. More money is immediately needed from these companies to hire enough investigators, regulators and enforcers to stop funding violence.

You can help stop the violence. Speak out. The next time you buy a product, think about where it has come from. Write, phone, email and ask the company if they have a truly ethical purchasing policy that includes safeguards against incorporating conflict resources into their product line. Ask your government to enact laws that would enforce its companies to maintain higher human rights standards, even when operating overseas. The market creates the demand, so let’s demand that they provide us with a truly ethical choice.

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Where did the conflict begin?

Lately, a friend and I have been discussing the economic factors of conflict. How does the economy precipitate conflict, and (how) can altering economic factors reduce the fighting? Does economic growth play a role in conflict, and what role does it play?

These are answers that I am neither fully prepared nor educated to give; not that they could even be started to be answered entirely in one tiny blog post… but bear with me.

One thought that came out of the discussion revolved around the idea of conflict being caused by rates of economic growth and trying to trace the “real” origins of a conflict. Essentially, that economic growth (or lack thereof) has the ability to cause or cease conflict. Economic factors definitely play a role, but I don’t think it’s as simple as some sort of linear causality. Without economic factors, there would be little incentive for many players to war (ie. $), and no weapons to do it with. This is true, but it is also dependent on a whole host of other factors.

Where do you trace the true “beginning” of a conflict? It’s next to impossible. If you look around to any of the wars or genocides or mass abuses happening in the world right now, resources are definitely involved, but are they the cause of the conflict?

Economic growth can affect a conflict because a country with poor economic growth has little to pay its civil workers. If you have an unsatisfied civil sector, you have corruption. If you have corruption, you have the ability to underhandedly steal resources from the state or population for profit. It’s all connected, but not always so cut and dry. Sometimes, as can be seen in some parts of North America, highly paid civil workers are still corrupt and stealing resources. In this case, it can be bad leadership, or incomprehensible property rights and legalities, but it is still not just directly economic factors.

A “poor” country with good leadership is possibly much less likely to conflict than a “rich” country with bad leadership. But then again, a richer country probably has developed a more complex legal system, and therefore has more leaps to jump to conflict, or legal ways around the extraction of resources, and apt policing systems that lessen outbreaks of direct conflict.

Clearly, each conflict is complex, and highly individual with many overlapping “causes” and fuels. Trying to find a true singular cause is really impossible. Many of the modern day conflicts are rooted in political/economic choices and decisions that are hundreds of years in the making. Economics can’t be separated from history, which can’t be separated from political choices, which can’t be separated from the daily life experienced by those living in the conflict.

So how do we stop conflict then?

There is not some simple, band-aid solution that can be cast onto each conflict. There is no one way to peacebuilding. It can start with removing incentives to conflict. Reduced incentives means no economic payoff, which means no money to buy weapons, and no money to be made from conflict.

It also takes creating incentives. Incentives to follow laws, incentives to be socially inclusive, incentives to reduce corruption… and so on. But it’s much more than that. It also involves just political leadership. It involves societal healing for past and current wrongs. It involves societal change and education towards conflict mediation and transformation strategies. It involves society become engaged in the peace process and wanting to find solutions that work for them. The list goes on and on.

Economic factors play a role in all conflict, but they should never be the seen as the only cause or solution to the conflict.

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Who cries for the three-year old rape victim?

A three year old girl died this week after being brutally gang-raped by rebel fighters in the DR Congo. Somehow, the last 7 words in that sentence seem to make the rest disappear. A three-year old rape victim dying in North America would be the cover of every news story in the country. A massive campaign would be launched to prevent it from happening in the future and a thorough investigation into how it happened in the first place would be ordered. The public would have no less. They would take every effort to ensure this type of crime never occurred again.

Why is it any different when it happens in the Congo? Why do we suddenly feel it is ok to ignore this problem? Is it because it is happening in a place that is already so violent? Does that somehow make it ok? The child would have probably faced violence her entire life anyway, right?

Is it because we feel disconnected from the violence there? This is interesting, since, as electronics loving Canadians, we are probably more connected to this crime than we might think. We could do something about it. We could protest. We could stop buying things that could help contribute to the crimes (and that list includes most of the electronics and metal products that we use every single day). We could write our government. But most of us never will. We won’t do this because it isn’t easy. Because it would involve some sort of sacrifice on our part.

Ask yourself this: If this rape victim were in North America, and the crime was partially committed by some company whose product you used every day– would you stop using it? Would you write the company a letter to express your outrage? Or would you sit there and do nothing? Why does this victim deserve any less?

Lately, violence in this region seems to be on the rise again. And we are still oblivious. Human rights campaigners and journalists trying to get the truth out are being silenced. Rape is again on the rise. The metal industries (and many many others) are making profit from these crimes. They are supplying massively violent warlords with weapons and money, and sometimes even logistical supplies to commit massacres. When will we stand up against them and say, no more?

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