conflict resources

Interesting Links

Here are some interesting links I came across this week:

  • For those of you in the academic world who haven’t heard of this free citation service, Zotero, check it out. Makes collaboration, citation and organizing your sources much easier.
  • In the face of the recent attention afforded to the London riots, this view is worth noting— China has riots more serious every week with over 90,000 such “mass incidents” of riots, protests, mass petitions and other acts in 2009 alone.
  • A discussion of the meaning of statistical significance.
  • An interesting project that uses dice to help extract difficult information from research subjects. The researcher asks a question, and the subject is asked to roll the dice; if it rolls a 1, the subject is to answer “no”, no matter the correct answer; and if a 6 is rolled, the subject is to answer “yes”, no matter the correct answer. This way, the subject is protected from implicating him/herself in any wrongdoing behind a layer of safety and is perhaps more prone to answer truthfully.
  • The World Justice Project released its 2011 Rule of Law Index, that profiles indicators of law and order in 66 countries worldwide.
  • A look at the growing incidence of piracy off the coast of West Africa.
  • The Independent Medico-Legal Unit in Kenya has found that one in four Kenyans has experienced torture, that nearly three quarters of all victims never report the offense and that seventy-seven percent of all reported cases are not investigated because most incidences have been allegedly perpetrated by the police officers themselves.
  • The state of human rights in Azerbaijan seems in jeopardy after three leading human rights organizations in Baku were allegedly illegally demolished in the middle of the night, without warning by the government.
  • Foreign Policy published an interesting article by A Bed for the Night author David Rieff regarding the exaggeration of NGOs and governments during humanitarian crises.
  • Dave Algoso from the Find What Works blog wrote an article about evaluating peacebuilding.
  • More violence seems possible in Malawi, following last month’s 19 protest deaths, as new anti-government demonstrations are scheduled for August 17th.
  • An interesting discussion has been raised over the Dodd-Frank Act and its effect on conflict minerals in the DR Congo. Jason Stearns gave an interview with the founder and director of OGP a Congolese NGO in Bukavu on the devastating effects the bill was having on the local population. Laura, from Texas in Africa discussed the predictability that this would have happened. David Aronson then published a piece in the New York Times talking about how this had caused a de facto embargo of minerals, to which both Laura and Jason Stearns responded. UN Dispatch and Metal Miner weighed in, as did others, including Global Witness. The Enough Project responded to the criticism of the Bill they highly backed, and then David Aronson responded again on his personal blog. All in all, it’s not likely these parties will come to some sort of agreement in the near future. Personally, I tend to see the futility of a Bill like the Dodd-Frank Act, especially in light of the security situation in the DRC. One only has to look at the extremely flawed Kimberley Process to realize that certification schemes are extremely open to corruption and not capable of fully controlling so-called “conflict minerals”.

More Canadian involvement in conflict minerals: Violent Attack on Peaceful Protesters Near the Marlin Mine

Hello all! Hope all is well!

My friend Rachel (who authors the fabulous blog under-mining Guatemala about mining abuses within the country) just posted the following blog post, which I had to share with you. Check out her fabulous blog if you get a chance.

Peace!

Rebecca


I received the following letter from Rights Action today concerning an attack on peaceful campesinos protesting the lack of compliance with a May 2010 order from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to suspend Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine, in Guatemala.

Below it, I have included 2 letters I drafted quickly in response. Feel free to copy-paste the first, and send it to Goldcorp (addresses included). Then forward it to the government and, if you like, include the second letter I include below.

URGENT CONCERN FOR SAFETY OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS OF SAN MIGUEL IXTAHUACÁN FOLLOWING PEACEFUL PROTESTS
We denounce the human rights violations and abuses committed today against peaceful protesters in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Guatemala.  The protest, demanding compliance with precautionary measures ordered by the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights regarding the Marlin mine, took place without incident during the day.  In late afternoon, participants returning from the peaceful roadblocks were reportedly confronted and attacked by community development council (COCODE) members and mine workers in San José Ixcaniche.
According to participants in the protest, Miguel Angel Bámaca and Aniseto López were beaten and threatened with lynching; one bus including approximately 40 men and women have been illegally detained and some beaten in the community of San José Ixcaniche.  As this alert is being written, they remain detained.  We are deeply concerned that the lives of human rights defenders are at risk.
Contact has been established with the local Human Rights Procurator’s (PDH) office, the local Presidential Commission for Defense of Human Rights (COPREDEH) and police, as well as national and international organizations to report these acts.
We ask you to stay alert and be ready to respond when more information and action requests are available from local organizations supporting communities resisting unjust mining in Guatemala.
In solidarity,

Francois Guindon – pancho@nisgua.org – +502 4014 7804
The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala, USA
Cynthia Benoist – collectifguatemala3@gmail.com Collectif Guatemala,
France Jackie McVicar – jmcvicar@gmail.com Breaking the Silence, Canada
Grahame Russell – info@rightsaction.org  – +502 4955 3634
Rights Action, Canada/USA

Here are two letters I drafted quickly in response. Feel free to copy-paste the first, and send it to Goldcorp (addresses included). Then forward it to the government and, if you like, include the second letter I include below.

Send to Goldcorp CEO: Chuck.Jeannes@goldcorp.com

CC: Kim.Keras@goldcorp.com,
Tim.Miller@montana.com.gt,
Dina.Aloi@goldcorp.com,
david.deisley@goldcorp.com,
Jeff.Wilhoit@goldcorp.com,
Directors@goldcorp.com,
jamess@montana.com.gt,
lisa.wade@montana.com.gt

Dear Mr. Jeannes,

I am very concerned with the events I’ve just heard of, that occurred today near the site of your Marlin Mine, in Guatemala.

I understand that an outbreak of violence occurred this afternoon against a group of primarily Mayan-Man campesinos, peacefully protesting the fact that neither your company nor the government of Guatemala has yet complied with a May 2010 order from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to suspend Goldcorp’s mining operation.

Miguel Angel Bámaca and Aniseto López were beaten and threatened with lynching; one bus including approximately 40 men and women have been illegally detained and some beaten in the community of San José Ixcaniche.  I am deeply concerned that the lives of these individuals who remain detained are at enormous risk.

Whether or not your mining operation is directly linked to this latest bout of violence, the indirect link is clear, and I await your response on how you are mitigating this violent situation. Further, I am joining the chorus of voices within Guatemala and international who are calling for a suspension of the Marlin Mine.

Forward the above letter to Leeann McKechnie, Canada’s ambassador to Guatemala, who can be reached at:

karin.reinecke@international.gc.ca,
jennifer.chacon@international.gc.ca,
gtmla@international.gc.ca

CC:

info@gg.ca,
DMousseau@gg.ca,
HarpeS@parl.gc.ca,
cannol@parl.gc.ca,
kent.p@parl.gc.ca,
ducepg@parl.gc.ca,
laytoj@parl.gc.ca,
emaytowin@greenparty.ca,
ignatm@parl.gc.ca,
RaeB@parl.gc.ca,
LalonF@parl.gc.ca,
DewarP@parl.gc.ca,
bagnell.l@parl.gc.ca,
days@parl.gc.ca,
julian.p@parl.gc.ca,
SorenK@parl.gc.ca,
Allison.D@parl.gc.ca,
Marketa.Evans@international.gc.ca

Dear Ambassador Leeann McKechnie,

Please find below the email I have sent to Goldcorp, expressing my concern over the violence a number of peaceful protesters near the Marlin Mine faced this afternoon. They were protesting the fact that neither the company nor the government of Guatemala has yet complied with a May 2010 order from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to suspend Goldcorp’s mining operation.

Immediately following their peaceful protest, Miguel Angel Bámaca and Aniseto López were beaten and threatened with lynching; and one bus including approximately 40 men and women was illegally detained in the community of San José Ixcaniche.  I am deeply concerned that the lives of these individuals who remain detained are at enormous risk.

In addition to my concern for these individuals’ personal safety, I am shocked and dismayed by the failure of your embassy, and of the Canadian government at large to urge this Canadian company to comply with the May 2010 order from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

I await your response on how you are working to ensure the safety of these  peaceful campesinos. Further, I ask that you join the chorus of voices both within Guatemala and internationally who are calling for a suspension of the Marlin Mine.

Sincerely,

What to do about blood minerals in the DR Congo.

I  may have spoken too hastily in the past regarding conflict resources in the DR Congo. My rage at the inherent abuse led me to think that boycotting and protesting companies was perhaps the best way to go. I realize now, that I was wrong. Starting with the last steps in the chain is the wrong approach to this problem.

Over the past six years, I have delved into this subject more than any other and have even gone so far as to ban all products for my personal use if I didn’t know EXACTLY where they came from and what effect they had. I still feel comfortable with this personal decision. I have become essentially a non-consumer (except for second hand goods) and I like it that way because I cannot fathom my personal choices causing pain in others and could not live with myself and my luxuries at that expense. As such, I’ve taken to growing almost all of my own food, having friends make me new clothes from reclaimed fabric or hitting the second hand shop and living a pretty austere life away from any new fangled gadgets. I have been mocked by other friends who suggest I now live in the stone age (not quite, I still have many older modern conveniences such as my laptop that I’ve had for the past 8 years– she runs just fine!). Frankly, that doesn’t bother me. I enjoy being connected to what I produce and what I consume. It makes me feel whole, but it’s definitely not a plausible life choice for everyone.

Over the past several months, it has become blatantly clear to me that boycotts will not improve the situation for those in the DR Congo, in fact, it will only make things worse for the people on the ground. Nor will creating a certification-scheme for “fair trade” products to help ban all blood minerals and metals. Lobbying governments or companies will create further awareness on the issue, perhaps bringing much needed funding for Congolese humanitarian projects, but it won’t make the lives of the people any better and it won’t stop conflict resources from flooding the market.

It’s hard for me to admit this, especially since I have so vehemently proposed such things in the past and now feel stupid for doing so. I ask myself, how did I not come to this conclusion earlier? The evidence was all there, I was reading it daily, but these conclusions made me feel helpless. Boycotting and calling the governments and companies to change made me more able to do something about the problem. Again, I feel helpless and feel like I am starting from scratch.

So what can people in North America do?

I still advocate that people should be aware of what they are purchasing. They should know that when they buy luxuries, they are affecting more than just their pocketbook. They should not over-consume, and skyrocket demand for mining and resource extraction that may cause environmental degradation, abuse or suffering. But what can they do directly about the problem?

In a country where corruption is king, and violence rampant– certification schemes are going to be corrupted. One only has to look to the Kimberley Process and the recent problems in Zimbabwe to realize that certifications schemes are not all they are cracked up to be. Until corruption and governance can be stabilized, a certification scheme is out of the question. So should we just ban all such resources from the areas of fighting in the DRC?

Criminalizing imports in an area where the majority of the population is reliant on revenues from mineral exports means that the local economy would experience rapid devaluation of their currency, suddenly making their basic needs completely unaffordable. It will also push illegal trade much further underground, making it much harder to track and people will still be subject to abuse for the sake of minerals. These minerals will still end up in our market, only they will have gotten there through much shadier means.

The new Bill C-300 on the table in Canada will open channels for victims of human rights abuses at the hands of Canadian corporations acting overseas and in theory allow them to have more access to justice. The bill would allow guilty companies to be sanctioned, their support withdrawn from Export Development Canada (EDC), as well as any investment by the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) in their company shares. In practice, however, given the high risk nature and generally small size of extractive companies, they do not generally even receive EDC funding or CPP investment. Mining companies could feel the sanctions, but as the bill is a private member’s bill, it will not likely be receiving the financial resources it needs to adequately make this function-able in the first place. Not to mention that the average person living in the DRC would probably not even be aware of the existence of said bill to even begin to file a complaint. In its current form, the Bill is clearly problematic and will have little effect on the well-being of the affected population.

The American Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 is meant to push companies to report on any minerals used in their products coming from conflict areas and describe the steps they took to ensure the minerals procurement did not support arms groups. All information would be public for citizens so that they could make their purchasing choices accordingly. This will result in essentially boycotting minerals from the DRC since the cost to the companies will increase with their use and people will avoid buying from companies who use potentially conflict-laden materials. Boycotts, as mentioned above, will have devastating effects for the population. The Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009 also amounts to a boycott.

Ok. Ok. Enough with the bad stuff, what will work?

It’s not that simple. What the DRC needs more than anything is good governance and security. “Without a Congolese state capable of playing its role in controlling and running affairs, how can the minerals of Kivu be de-criminalized?”

Since MONUC, the UN peacekeeping troop in the DRC,  has recently decided to scale back its mandate and reduce its troops by 2,000 to change itself into MONUSCO, the possibility of good governance in the country looks bleak. The latest UN resolution calls on MONUSCO to “support” and act “upon explicit request” from the Congolese government (one of the major human rights abusers in the country, including within the mineral trade), a move that offers no explicit details on how MONUSCO is supposed to support them or deal with abusive officers or improve the behaviour of the forces. The resolution also limits the mandate of civilian protection to only areas where peacekeepers are stationed, clawing back existing assistance. The former head of MONUC has also just retired to be replaced with the surprise choice of Alan Doss, a man with no previous UN experience, potentially leaving the already troublesome command structure weakened.

What can we do about this? Well, the UN already has the largest peacekeeping force in its history in the country, but it would take thousands more troops to really provide some semblance of stability and that is just not likely to happen.

We can petition our governments to push for greater UN presence in the country, to increase their spending to aid these endeavors and increase their arms sanctions or actually enforce them. We can push the UN to increase its mandate so it can try to actually secure unstable territory. We can push them to be more engaged with the local populations and look at ways to more effectively communicate with them (such as hiring more translators or setting up remote radio communication systems). We can push the UN to work on good governance programs, ensure active functioning justice systems, continue its Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program and thoroughly train the police or in areas where there are no police, do the job of policing to ensure security. We can also push them to rethink their approach and adopt differing strategies that would allow them to better address the realities on the ground  (Séverine Autesserre has some good suggestions)  We can push the UN to hunt down and contain the rebel movements who are destabilizing the country. We can push the international community to actually listen to local solutions and help implement them. We can push our own governments to demand accountability for the billions of dollars they give to the Congolese government each year. We can push for any of our extraction companies in the DRC who are directly committing crimes in the country to be brought to justice and actually investigate all claims made by UN and other reports that implicate any companies in criminal actions within the country. We can push the media to actually show the severity of the conflict to help increase international aid and monitor the progress and to focus more on local solutions and initiatives to the problems. We can inform people of what is happening and encourage them to push their governments and the UN as well.

And we can hope that the world will listen and respond. With enough pressure, anything is possible.

** Update: I received a thoughtful email from Laura at Texas in Africa with some great suggestions who agrees with the idea that “getting a functioning security sector, police who can and will do their jobs, collecting taxes so that salaries can be paid, and getting the judiciary working again” are a top priority.

She stated, “I’ve found that the best thing for me to do in terms of formulating a response is to support organizations that I think are doing a good job, and to encourage others to do the same.  If you’re concerned about women who are victims of rape in the region, Heal Africa, Panzi Hospital, and Women for Women all do a wonderful job of helping them to return to health and rebuild their lives.  The IRC, Doctors without Borders, and Oxfam also do good work, especially in the education and health sectors.  Supporting  NGO work doesn’t solve the bigger issues, but it does help me to feel like I’m making a small difference, even as I work to figure out these issues and educate others about them.”

She also suggested reading over Resource Consulting Services Ltd. ‘s work for ideas on how to legalize and formalize the mineral trade in the DRC. Thanks Laura for your helpful suggestions!

 

Welcome to Cote D’Ivoire.

I arrived in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire, land of cacao and coffee, almost a week ago now. It’s not my first time in West Africa. I had last been to Cote D’Ivoire in 2004, and during that time experienced the violence between pro-government militias and the French peacekeeping troops. At that time, military roadblocks were common along all roadways and made travel throughout the country incredibly difficult.  Power and water outages were so frequent that we kept water bottles next to the sinks for collection for when the water was available if we wanted to later wash and spent much of the time in the dark.

Times have changed, but the country is still not entirely free from the grips of war. Roadblocks, from what I can tell so far, are much more infrequent, and run mostly by the police (to catch speeding and unlicensed drivers) now instead of the military. The power has only gone out one evening for a few hours during a scheduled outage (the government’s attempt to save electricity) –and the water, thankfully, has so far been steady. Almost all stores still employ Security guards in bright yellow shirts and have thick fences, bars and gates that lock after entry or exit. The scheduled 2005 governmental elections have been delayed and rescheduled numerous times and have still yet to occur. Voter identification processes and security concerns continue to plague the elections process. A process of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of some of the rebel groups began in December of 2007, but was upset in June of 2008 after former rebels were delayed in receiving payments for their alternative “micro-projects”. Many took to the streets in protest, attacking civilians, seizing vehicles, setting up barricades and looting shops. While this violence has now settled, the continuing delays in elections and DDR processes leave a fragile peace.

Of course, resources play their part in Cote D’Ivoire’s conflict, as they do in any conflict. I watch everyday as trucks heavily loaded with timber (mostly mahogany, but also teak, frake, framire, pine, samba, cedar, gmelina, niangon, and bete) make their way along the highway to the coastal port in Abidjan, destined for Italy, Spain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, the UK, India, Ireland, Senegal and Morocco, among other places. I see one pass the highway in front of my apartment every couple of minutes or so during the day. I often wonder whether these are legally or illegally traded, where the profits from these logging activities go and whether or not they are supporting violence along the way.

Conflict resources encompass far more than just minerals and metals that receive the bulk of media attention. Logging supports violent activities all over the globe, as do resources such as cocoa and coffee. Child slavery and child labour is a major problem of the cocoa trade in Cote D’Ivoire. An estimated 130,000 (some say as high as 200,000) children work in cocoa production in the country (6% under the age of 10, 40% between the ages 10 and 14 and 54% between the ages of 15 and 17), often handling pesticides without protective equipment, using machetes and transporting excessively heavy loads. Approximately 12,000 of these children are thought to be trafficked and essentially enslaved. A voluntary certification process was created to help alleviate this problem, but lost its funding and was discontinued in 2006. As Cote D’Ivoire supplies almost 50% of the world’s supply of cocoa, this means that slavery has quite possibly touched much of the chocolate that sits in our North American stores.

I am hoping that during my time here in West Africa, I will get the chance to look into these trades in more depth, and interview some of the affected populations. For now, I sit in Abidjan, watching the trucks roll by, while I enjoy a bit of a vacation over the next few weeks.

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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HP is trying.

It’s been almost two years that I have been pushing different computer companies to better track their supply chains in an effort to stop the flow of money into conflict zones. My pleas have mostly fallen on deaf ears.

While I can’t entirely endorse any of the companies’ efforts, since I feel they still fall short of being fully responsible, I feel that Hewlett Packard (HP) is at least trying to change and is the closest to actually doing so. My general feeling on these companies is that they should have full control over their supply line, know whether any stops along the way are human rights abusing and stop the abuse if it is found if they truly want to consider themselves an “ethical” company. If they find abuse, they can choose to ask that supplier to stop the abuse or they have the choice to switch to another supplier. Either way, they have control over this aspect. If the supplier won’t let them in to inspect for abuse, then switch supplier. Simple. It’s fairly black and white with me when it comes to this. We, as consumers, don’t have this choice to the same extent. We don’t know who supplies which company without thorough research, and have a difficult time trying to ascertain the truth from the companies even with thorough research. They say, buyer beware, but when we see “ethical” policies on their website, we assume that it’s the truth. Sadly, in most cases I have found, it is not anywhere near the truth.

Hewlett Packard has started auditing its supply chain and making as much information on those audits available as possible. They have listed the majority of their suppliers in an effort to be more transparent. They have made voluntary promises to investigate their supply chain more closely. They claim to unconditionally support human rights on their web site. They have donated money and equipment to the ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative in an effort to track the tin for their products in the DR Congo. They have also voluntarily joined on to the GeSI Supply Chain Initiative. These efforts haven’t gone completely unnoticed. HP was named #1 Best Corporate Citizen by Corporate Responsibility Magazine. It has been written up repeatedly as an “ethical” company.

The reality though, is still kind of sad. The ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative received only $600,000 for the first six months of its supply chain project. Seems like a lot of money, right? While, before you start applauding these companies for this donation, you must realize that HP, Analog Devices, Apple, Cabot Supermetals, Dell, EMC, IBM, Intel, Lenovo, Motorola Foundation, Nokia, Philips, RIM, Sony, Talison, Telefonica, S.A. Western Digital and Xerox collaboratively donated this money and that within that list sit several companies who are making millions upon millions each year on these tainted supplies while already claiming corporate social responsibility.  The $600K donation works out to less than $40K per company for this initiative. Consider that a company like HP spends approximately $235 million per month on research and development of new products, you think they could invest a little more in ensuring human rights are respected in the making of their supposedly “ethical” product line. And before you commend them on reaching the top of Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s “Best Corporate Citizens”, realize that the Coca Cola Co. (accused of massive worldwide crimes, see also here) also tops the list for responsibility.

What it appears like to me is companies using bottom line donations to promote their image, while ignoring a larger problem in an effort to maximize their own profits. Profits should not come before people. You want to be ethical in your product line? Here’s a plan for you. Spend the money, send out auditors to each of your suppliers and their suppliers and their suppliers. Keep them there for (at least) the next year and have them report on each and every violation against human rights. If these violations start to add up, move to another supplier who can agree to your terms. I’m sure there are many other suppliers waiting in the wings wishing on contracts with a massive corporation that would be willing to take some more responsible measures to secure that contract. This is a simplification, obviously it would be slightly more complicated, but there is as far as I can see no real reason they can’t take full responsibility except for monetary and competition reasons, and frankly, that’s just not good enough. War crimes and crimes against humanity are happening for these products, and that’s not ok.

It makes no sense me to that these companies claim they are unable to control their own product line. They have the control. They just don’t want to lose profits because they do not see the competitive advantage in paying more for human rights protection. A few moments in the media of shining glory after some piddly donation has a similar effect as an actual effort. So why put the effort and money in?

Please HP, live up to your ethical promises. Keep the effort coming, and keep transparent. I want to respect you.

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Connections to violence

So anyone who reads this blog probably knows by now that I write a lot about conflict resources. I have been scanning the mining news and other humanitarian sites for many years now, and the more I read and follow, the angrier I become.

I am angry because the abuses are so vast and I am disgusted because we as Canadians are so intricately involved in violence around the world and seem to not know about it, or worse, not care. We focus instead on providing relief from the problems we are helping to cause.

I have finally begun to share some of these news stories regarding conflict resources around the world on twitter (@miningconflict). I hope you will all follow it and send me links to new stories if you find them. This topic is one I choose to focus on, because it is the one place where we as Canadians are involved and I feel can make an actual difference without having to directly interfere in other governments or people’s affairs.

I have issues with “development“. I see it as a form of neo-colonialism. I also have issues with many humanitarian causes that can be unsustainable in the long run, vertical and even victimizing. For me, the best way to be a humanitarian is to change myself. I don’t need to go and help in some orphanage or school, or give money to some charity and often feel conflicted with both. I feel I can do far more with my choices than any money or service could ever “fix”.

By choosing to take a stand against supporting more violence and speaking out against it I feel I can be far more effective. I feel that stopping the problem needs to come to first. The saddest thing to me is that most people in Canada have no idea how much violence the Canadian government or Canadian companies have caused and are still causing worldwide, because I know they wouldn’t knowingly support these abuses. There’s little we feel we can do. There’s really no one-stop conflict-free shop (though that would be wonderful!). The government follows its lobbyists more than its constituents– and our letters seem useless.

Make no mistake about it. Our Canadian mining interests are helping to fuel violence around the world. Our stores are filled with products that have blood on them. Why do we allow this to continue? What can we do to change it? It NEEDS to be changed. And we need to do that from our end.  We need to say, we will not use products that have caused violence and we will tell the company of our choice. We need to say, we will not import products that have caused abuse or violence. We need to say, it will be illegal for our companies (and government) to cause abuse or violence in our country or abroad– and we will make sure that the legalities will actually be enforced.

We do have control over some things here in Canada. We have control over what we purchase. Over who we vote into office. Over what we voice our opinions on. These  far, far away countries are not more violent than Canada by accident. There is no magic separating “us” from “them” that makes Canada less violent. We are not somehow more advanced, or “developed”. They are not more prone to violence because of some inherent violence within them or some longstanding ethnic conflicts that we just somehow avoided here. We are connected to much of their violence. We are part of it with the choices we make each and every day here in Canada. This violence is structured. And it’s all about profit and power. Colonialism never really left us– only new masters are now in charge. Resources are still the main game.

The sooner we realize this, the better off we all will be. As long as incentives to violence remain, the longer the violence will remain. As long as we continue to “develop” countries into one progression of consumption where capitalism reigns, the longer the violence will remain. The longer we interfere and try to “fix” instead of seeing the problem amongst ourselves to “fix”, the longer the violence will remain. The only thing we need to “fix” is ourselves. We in North America need to fix our material obsessions. We need to stop being only consumers of things. Our consumption is ensuring others live in poverty and destruction while we live in luxury. We (our government) need to stop giving endless loans to warlord-like dictators who ensure it will be subsequent generations who will pay for their power. We need to to have accountability for our actions. We need to stop stealing resources away from the earth at alarming rates and funneling the profit to those who bring violence. We need to change our structures so they are fair and equitable to all. So that all have equal voice and say in affairs that concern them. This is not a “third”-world problem alone. It is a world problem. We all are the problem. And we all need to be the solution. We all need to sacrifice and change and make peace within our own lives.

What can you do about global violence? First- Stop consuming so much stuff! Contact the companies you purchase from and ask them to stop buying raw materials or manufactured goods that have fueled violence. Write to the government. Speak out about it. Tell everyone you know! And pass this message on!

Some Canadians are trying to find legal solutions. Bill C-300 is an important step in this direction. Please read up about it and speak out about it!

If you want to write to the government (and I’m hoping you will!), here are some people to try writing to:

John McKay, MP. Liberal Party of Canada, MckayJ@parl.gc.ca– responsible for bringing Bill C-300 to Parliament.

Kevin Sorenson, Chair, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, SorenK@parl.gc.ca
Angela Crandall, Clerk, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, faae@parl.gc.ca

or Write to:

House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0A6
Canada

The Prime Minister – pm@pm.gc.ca

The Foreign Affairs Minister- cannon.L@parl.gc.ca

The Leader of the Opposition- Ignatieff.M@parl.gc.ca

Other party leaders in Parliament-  Layton.J@parl.gc.ca; duceppe.G@parl.gc.ca

Find your Member of Parliament here.

And find your MPP here.

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What are conflict resources?

Most have probably heard of or seen the movie “Blood Diamond” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. This movie is about conflict resources, specifically diamonds. The movie traces the path of a man who is embroiled in conflict, forced to be a diamond mining slave and his struggle to find his kidnapped son. Conflict resources, however, extend far beyond just diamonds. They include tin, copper, cobalt, coltan, gold, all the vast mined metals and minerals, and even things like timber. The profits from these resources funds violence. Essentially warlords or brutal armies or corrupt governments overtake mines or resources and begin to sell them on the world market and use this money to fund their violence; buying weapons and power for themselves. The extraction process of the raw materials could have also involved violence, including slave labor, inhumane conditions, massive abuse, intimidation and murder.

One of the best definitions I’ve seen for conflict resources is this one:

“Conflict resources are natural resources whose systematic exploitation and trade in a context of conflict contribute to, benefit from or result in the commission of serious violations of human rights, violations of international humanitarian law or violations amounting to crimes under international law.”

Can you imagine handing a brutal warlord with a massive continual supply of money to buy weapons and power? This is what is happening. We continue and continue to supply and support warlords and then spend great amount of money and effort trying to stop them from warring. We continue to buy products that have supported war, unaware; and wonder what incentive these people could possibly have to war and kill each other. I’d say millions of dollars a month is quite an incentive for many…

The complicated nature of the metals market allows for this to continue. “The metals market can be understood by analogy to a pool of water that is being fed by many streams. Numerous sources, including primary and recycled metal producers, supply the metals market, which is a global commodity pool that circulates and mixes freely. At the same time, numerous buyers withdraw from the pool, often not distinguishing source other than on price. Within the metal pool, metal is metal, where one unit of atoms is substitutable for another.” Something needs to change in the way metals and raw materials are traded and extracted.

Why is this happening? Profit is not enough of a reason, especially with many companies claiming “ethical” business practices. There is nothing ethical about supporting murder, rape, abuse and massive violence. The system is so complicated that most companies no longer have control over their own products. They have no idea what is going into their products and where the raw materials all actually come from. This is unacceptable and the longer we ignore it, the more people will die.

Everyone became aware of conflict diamonds and the Kimberly process was created to try and stop conflict diamonds from getting into the market, but they forgot (or never knew about) the other resources that are creating just as much, or even more violence. There are ways to stop this type of violence, but there needs to be more than voluntary regulations that are not even enforced or are beyond the scope of national legalities.

Please read up on the issue (I write frequently about this topic here), and write a letter/email to the following people (and any more you come across) urging them to stop the violence. You can also post complaints on any company you feel are falsely advertising “ethical business practices” here. A sample letter follows. If you would like more suggestions or need more information, please feel free to contact me at apeaceofconflict.gmail.com.

Some computer companies:

Hewlett Packard dfisher@hp.com

Acer Canada-Sales@acer.com

Toshiba Sherry.Lyons@toshiba.ca

Dell: try writing their corporate office at:
Dell Canada
155 Gordon Baker Rd., Suite 501
North York, Ontario M2H 3N5

Apple: try writing their corporate office at:
Apple Computer
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino California 95014

Government officials:

The Prime Minister – pm@pm.gc.ca

The Foreign Affairs Minister- cannon.L@parl.gc.ca

The Leader of the Opposition- Ignatieff.M@parl.gc.ca

Other party leaders in Parliament- Layton.J@parl.gc.ca; duceppe.G@parl.gc.ca

And find your MPP here.

Sample letter to computer companies:

Dear________.

I am writing to express my concern over the use of conflict resources in your product line. Many of the raw materials used to manufacture your products could have supported violence. Most metals are said to pass through a minimum of 10 hands before ever reaching the manufacturing stage, making the origins very difficult to trace. Many of these metals have been mined in war zones, some even by slave labour, and are helping to fuel conflict and massive violence in these regions. The current state of the metal industry leaves the source of each metal rather ambiguous. This is unacceptable practice that must stop.

Your company’s current efforts are not enough to stop the violence. Conflict resources are still getting through and into your product line. Voluntary cooperation to minimum standards is not enough. Something more serious must be done.

I urge you to take a stand against the violence and create structures to stop it. I urge you to have an ethical business practice that actually means something. I do not want to buy a product that has contributed to violence.

Yours sincerely,

A bit of shining light.

So after 3 hours on the phone today talking to several different computer companies, I had a breath of shining light.  A glimmer of hope that someone on the other end understood what I was saying and was actually concerned about it enough to strike a dialogue with me.

This is rare. The most frustrating part of this whole struggle is that the most common response to my inquiry line is “I’ve never been asked this before”. To me, this means either that consumers don’t care enough to ask about the product line, or they don’t know that this is happening to even ask, or the people at the company are lying to me trying to avoid the question. I’m hoping for the second option. At least this I can try to do something about.

Today, on my 6th set of calls to Dell Computers in the past 6 months (that’s really gotten me nowhere so far) I finally spoke to someone who seemed like they would try and find an answer (or some sort of solution) for me. After 10 minutes of an automated service, being switched to 3 different departments and having to decide which product I wanted information on exactly, and whether it was for home or business use (in fact, it would be for both, so I had to choose); I was redirected to someone who seemed to actually be interested in what I was trying to do.

I was put on hold while he searched for my answers about their product line. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find the specifics for me in the short period on the phone, but assured me he would find some more useful details on the product line and forward them to my email address. He also asked if he could have more information on the issue so that he could research it on his time off because he was interested. Definitely! R, I hope you are reading this now!

Maybe these companies haven’t heard or been asked these questions– but they should be. Phone the company and inquire about their product line. Ask about their ethical purchasing policies. Ask where they source their raw materials. Ask about whether they support any human rights violations to make their product. The more inquiries they get– the more likely they will be to find a real answer to them.

It takes people caring enough about the issues to say- “I will not support this!”. It takes people looking deeper into each step of a product line. It takes a lot of work, most certainly, but it is worth it if we can stop human rights violations.

If you are a company, you should know what steps have gone into making your product. You should know whether your product has supported human rights violations along the way and you should care enough to say stop if they are! We are soo disconnected from everything we use, we are not even aware of the damage it may cause. This is not right. Many companies are making profits, making HUGE profits. It is time they took these profits and made a real change in their own structures to prevent human rights abuses.

It is not enough for them to give to charity. Especially, if they are the ones who are helping to fuel the atrocities in the first place. If this is the case, charity only equates to guilt money.

So I’m nowhere close to finding the answers I desire– but I am hopeful that I have at least reached one person…. and that’s a start.


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