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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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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,

Where to go from here…

I’ve been incredibly frustrated with the computer industry’s response to my inquiries. I have hit a wall in my research, with little place left to go at this level. I have talked to the people at the companies who are responsible for dealing with human rights inquiries and they have all told me all the information they are willing to give. Their information has left me with many further questions and inquiries into how they are planning to change the problem in the future, and waiting on them to actually implement the changes voluntarily. This could take forever and I’m not willing to wait anymore.

The information they have shared is scary. It’s scary because it makes plain that these abuses are possibly happening in the manufacture of every modern electronics device and possibly far beyond this to include many other metal products that most North Americans use every single day.

Think about this for a moment. How many electronic devices do you have in your home? How many computers, laptops, cameras, cell phones, game consoles, etc. do you own? How many will you go through in the next 5 years? Each of these products has touched war. They have allowed human beings to be slaughtered, raped, enslaved, abused… They have allowed children to be recruited as soldiers, and forced them to grow up with violence all around them. How can any of these companies claim ethical purchasing policies at all? Why are they not responsible for ensuring their own product line is not causing human rights abuses in other parts of the world? Why are they allowed to sidestep legalities for profit? There is something seriously wrong with the world.

Some companies have taken baby steps to change, but everything is so disconnected that it is next to impossible to prove or disprove anything or to allow for complete change overnight.

My new goal has become to go to the higher source. To go to the metal companies that supply the computer and electronics industries with raw materials for manufacture. I think that these have more of a possibility for answers and success. Voluntary cooperation is not going to stop this violence.

I strive for regulation in the manufacture and extraction of raw materials, so that companies and unknowing consumers are not supporting war in another part of the world. There is no reason this type of violence should continue. There is no reason that we should unknowingly be supplying warlords with massive profits or weapons and allowing them to continue their violence. We need to stop fueling them with money and weapons– otherwise we are are partially guilty of the violence. We need to change our own ways, and voice our opinions to the companies and governments responsible.

Genocide is happening, and we are all part of it. The time has come to stop, and it will not happen through peacekeeping or UN efforts alone. This is only responding to the manifestations and not the underlying causes of the violence. YOU need to change. YOU need to become aware. YOU need to speak your mind to the companies and governments who allow this continue. YOU need to be aware that every time you purchase metals, you might be causing death and destruction through your purchases.

It is an uncomfortable thought, I know, but the longer we go on ignoring the problem– the longer it will continue. Please speak out against the abuses in the production of our luxuries and strive to make real change.


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HP’s steps

Now I like HP, well, at least I like them the best out of any of the computer companies I have had the (dis)pleasure of having dialogue with. HP and I had a rocky start as I tried to get to someone who could tell me what I needed to know.

Now that I have found that person, the Product Content Manager, things have gone much more smoothly. She has been forthcoming in answering my questions as directly as possible, even when it implicates the imperfections in their own system, and not trying to skirt around the issues with other faulty claims. I can respect this, because at least it means they are being somewhat forthcoming with me and are actively pursuing some answers from their own suppliers. At least I have a better chance of getting to the truth. I would be more likely to buy from them than any other computer company at this point simply for the direct way in which they have responded to me.

I have been told that HP is an active participant in the EICC/GeSI Extractives Working group which is initiating a project this year to develop supply chain transparency models for cobalt, tin and tantalum. This is a positive step (but not yet enough). Several other companies are also on board with this initiative. (see http://www.gesi.org/files/20080620_ghgm_ser_metalstoelectronics.pdf)

I was given information by HP on the specific suppliers that I questioned in my previous emails to them (Kemet and Hitachi) and was told they have assurances from these companies that they are now using conflict-free resources in the form of Letters of Certification for the source of the materials. I was only able to access this information because they allowed their suppliers to be scruitinized and allowed me to look into slightly deeper than other companies into their supply chain. This is great step and means that they are actually trying to get some answers from their suppliers and are actually willing to work with the public to allow some level of scruitiny.

Do I believe their suppliers’ claims to them? No, I most definitely do not. Especially since the two suppliers that I specificially questioned HP about were implicated in a UN report for major human rights abuses less than 10 years ago and have yet to be charged or investigated further for these abuses. No one has yet to be held accountable for the past abuses, and no real structure has been put into place that I can ascertain to prevent them from happening again in the future.

Letters of Certification are not enough, especially since the metal market is so complicated. As the 2008 report Social and Environmental Responsibility in Metals Supply to the Electronic Industry details, “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.”

If this is the case, there is a long way to go to prevent the metals from entering our electronics devices. Hopefully some sort of structure will be put in place to stop these abuses that goes beyond a voluntary basis. These are human rights abuses that are against the law and should be stopped. Resource extraction is one of the main incentives to war and bloody massacres, slavery and abuse happen for this purpose. There is no reason that these structures should not be mandated by international and national laws. Companies should not be allowed to disregard or sidestep legalities because the system is complicated or because they use suppliers in different countries or are disconnected from their own product line. The law is the law, and companies that break the laws should be punished, especially if they are doing so in full knowledge and making no real steps to change.


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Toshiba

Toshiba has been a brand much like HP, that makes it difficult for me to discount their claims outright. They seem to actually care, and have some structures in place (a corporate social responsibility framework) to be able to make a change and seem to be willing to discuss (to some extent) their policies. They are also one of the leaders (along with HP) in their overall environmental and social record. After a great deal of searching and prodding I think I have found the person at their company who can really start to give me some answers into the depths of these policies.

The first round of questioning went as expected. I inquired about their ethical purchasing and was sent the stock information on their corporate social responsibilty (CSR) policy which did not answer my questions and which I had already mostly read online before.

The information sent to me talked about their request to the component suppliers to take action against human rights abuses, but not the details of how far this actually goes and whether it is enforced or not in any great detail. It also mentioned that an independent audit was performed by a third party and that suppliers had been monitored, but no word on what the results had been of the monitoring and what actions had changed as a result of the overall policy. It also didn’t mention if this monitoring extended past manufacturers into raw material suppliers, which I am guessing it does not based on its wording.

The woman I had been dealing with eventually got back to me after a couple of weeks, apologizing for the late reply and sent me a link to their Procurement Policy (which I had already read thoroughly), and specified that they cannot disclose details of their suppliers for confidentiality reasons. Along with that she sent me this statement:

“Just for your information, upon our recent investigation/inquiry with
our suppliers(*) of PC components(*), we have been informed that they do not procure/use tantalum (Coltan) sourced from the DR Congo.”

but no evidence or link to where this information could be found or which level of suppliers was contacted and what they are actually doing to ensure this. There was also no mention in her email what the asterixes were implying.

I sent back a letter describing to her that most ore passes through at least 10 hands before it ever gets to the supplier stage and that much of the ore claimed to have come from neighbouring countries is actually sourced in the DR Congo war zones because of inadequate structures in place.

I also inquired why she had included (*) in her statements, because I didn’t read any fine print or addendum to the email that would explain their purpose.

I discussed the competition argument in light of HP’s (mostly) open supplier list and their ability to still remain competitive. I stated that I would like to continue the dialogue to receive more information about what their policy really meant.

This letter was sent 8 days ago and I am still waiting on a further response from Toshiba, which if past actions are an indicator, should be about another week out.

I am sick and tired of hearing claim after claim from these companies with no proof or backing for the claims. Most of the time they don’t even directly answer my questions (like in this email), they skirt the issue with other claims. Transparency is key. You can reveal your suppliers and still be competitive. You can open your company to scruitiny and still be competitive. In fact, I would be more likely to purchase your product if you allowed scruitiny into your product line, EVEN if it was possible that human rights abuses were still happening. The reasoning for this– you are at least making an effort and want the people to actually know what you are doing and not just using another marketing ploy to fool people into buying into your brand.


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New Colonies of Death: despair, anarchy and plunder in the Congo.

This is an essay I wrote for a class last year that talked about the conflict in the DRC. It discusses the human rights abuses happening, the main parties involved, and the complicit governments and companies who have a hand in ensuring the abuses continue.

“The deadliest war since [WW2] is starting again – and you are almost certainly carrying a blood-soaked chunk of the slaughter in your pocket. When we glance at the holocaust in Congo… the clichés of Africa reporting tumble out: this is a “tribal conflict” in “the Heart of Darkness”. It isn’t. The United Nations investigation found it was a war led by “armies of business” to seize the metals that make our 21st-century society zing and bling. The war in Congo is a war about you. …These resources were not being stolen for use in Africa. They were seized so they could be sold on to us. The more we bought, the more the invaders stole – and slaughtered.” – Johan Hari, commentator at The Independent (Uhururadio.com, 2008)

 

The massive human rights violations happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are being perpetuated by a variety of complex and inter-weaving actors both locally and internationally. Multiple militias, armies, and security forces roam the country, wreaking havoc on villages and innocents as they pass. Calculating the exact numbers of victims is currently nearly impossible as many people are simply missing, probably decomposing in the forest, or in mass graves, with no surviving family members left to miss them, and incomplete national registration processes that didn’t even know they existed in the first place. The continual conflict and insecurity also makes it next to impossible for monitoring missions or human rights observers to do their job. As many as 45,000 people are dying per month of war-related causes. These deaths include not only direct violence, but also disease, starvation, and malnutrition (among other things) brought upon by the violence.  These statistics do not even begin to address the psychological abuses, physical abuses, sexual violence, tortures, displacements and destruction of property, let alone the severe and lasting political, social and economic effects that the continued violence has on the country itself.

The DRC is in desperate need of intervention, security, regulation, mediation, negotiations, assistance and structures to help it to stabilize itself before more people are endangered. Too many of the population have been living in constant fear, terror and frustration, in the face of daily bloodshed, destruction and death. They have lived in a virtual hell for over a decade, mostly ignored by the outside world.  We as Canadians are helping to ensure this conflict continues, despite the outward veneer of philanthropy our government and our media would have us believe. The individuals of the world need to wake up and realize the connection that exists between their own lives and the rest of humanity. The media of the “global north” mostly ignore the cries of Africa, and most definitely ignore the connections Canadians have to the bloodshed. Resistance to these atrocities does exist, in the form of certain media, academic scholarship, human rights organizations, awareness campaigns, and individual actions. The possibility for peace in the DRC exists, but it will take an intense combined international and local acknowledgement of the severity of the situation, the complex institutions that reinforce it, and the support and effort necessary to stop it.

The Crimes

Several former militia leaders have been charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes or crimes against humanity committed in the DRC and have warrants out for their arrest (ICC, 2004). The charges include massacres of civilians, systematic rape, torture, murder of UN peacekeepers; along with multiple other war crimes and crimes against humanity including enlisting and conscripting children under the age of fifteen to actively participate in hostilities. Among those charged are Jean-Pierre Bemba (the former VP of the transitional government of the DRC), Thomas Lubanga Dyilo (founder and former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots), General Laurent Nkunda (former leader of the Rally for Congolese Democracy), Bosco Ntaganda (military chief of staff of the National Congress for the Defense of People), Germain Katanga (leader of the Patriotic Resistance Force in Ituri), and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chiu (of the National Integrationist Front). Many other regional parties, such as Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), are also guilty of war crimes in the DRC (Faul, 2008). Many leaders of the LRA have also been charged by the ICC, but not in connection to crimes committed in the DRC. Although these parties are guilty of numerous atrocities and wanted by the international community, the lack of enforcement capabilities at the ICC means that many of these criminals may remain elusive for years to come (Allen, 2006; 4-9).

The government in the case of the DRC is also guilty, as is its army and its president Joseph Kabila. Although not yet (and probably never to be) charged by the ICC for mostly political reasons, Kabila, his army and his government have been accused of rampant human rights abuses. These include the presence of children in the ranks of the DRC armed forces, the new recruitment of child soldiers, abuses against street children, as well as sexual violence, torture, disappearances, mass murders, abuse of civilians, and the arbitrary arrest and detention without charge of children allegedly associated with armed opposition groups (HRW, August 22, 2008).  Many of these abuses are in strict contradiction to The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNHCR, 1989) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN, 1948); and are considered war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the past 3 months alone, the government has been charged with the murder of at least 20 civilians, including 5 children (HRW, November 7, 2008), and wounding at least 50 civilians by direct violence (HRW, November 7, October 30, 2008). In this same time period, they have been accused of numerous rapes, robberies, as well as the arbitrary detention and subsequent torture of at least 40 Tutsi and other alleged sympathizers of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda (HRW, October 30, 2008). Roadblocks set up by the government have prevented many fleeing citizens from escaping the violence, often forcing them to pay a “tax” or bribe or give up their electoral (and identity) cards to pass through (HRW, September 25, 2008). The government has circumvented the Rome Statute and its obligations to arrest and surrender four leaders of the LRA, instead sending them into the Sudan (which refuses to cooperate with the ICC) where they are sure to evade justice (Clifford, 2007).  The government has also been accused of colluding with the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda or FDLR (a rebel militia), most notably over the control of the lucrative mineral trade in North Kivu (The Economist, Oct 18, 2008; 57).

More than 20 militias roam the DRC, bringing with them intense violence and destruction. The Hutu Interhamwe militias responsible for the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda have mostly transformed into the FDLR now fighting in the northeastern DRC. The FDLR is guilty of mass human-rights violations, ranging from mass murder, to public gang raping and sexual violence, torture, disappearances, destruction of property (burning entire villages to the ground), and other abuses against the civilian population in the DRC. In only the past 3 months, at least 100 civilians have been killed and more than 200 have been wounded by the direct violence of rebel forces (HRW, November 7, 2008). Nkunda’s forces also encouraged the town of Rutshuru on October 28th, 2008 to dismantle displacement camps where more than 26,000 people had sought refuge (HRW, November 7, 2008). The FDLR was accused of deliberately killing at least 20 civilians and wounding another 33 in Kiwanja on November 4th, 2008 during a battle for the town and the “cleanup” operations that followed. The rebels ordered the population of some 30,000 inhabitants to leave the town, while systematically seeking out and killing particularly men, who they accused of supporting their enemies (HRW, November 6, 2008). The Congolese government was supposed to have disarmed the FDLR according to a 2008 peace agreement, but has made no effort to do so thus far (HRW, Oct, 30, 2008).

The Mai Mai, a group of traditional Congolese local security forces that operate inside the DRC, support the government by working as guerillas inside territory held by antigovernment forces. They have also been accused of similar atrocities on the civilian population (Ware, 2001), including recruiting at least 37 children into militias in the last week of October 2008 (HRW, November 7, 2008), and deliberately killing at least 6 civilians in Kiwanja on November 4-5, 2008 (HRW, November 6, 2008). Many of the neighboring African governments (including the Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi) are guilty of crimes within the borders of the DRC. They claim to be protecting their borders from invasion by DRC-based armed groups which legitimizes (in their minds) sending troops to these locations (Essick, 2001).  The list of atrocities committed by all parties is incredibly extensive and entirely incomplete, as the war has raged on for over a decade and the almost non-existent infrastructure makes proper investigating of crimes almost impossible. War-related deaths make it even harder to establish direct guilt of parties. If these numbers were included as specific crimes by individuals, as many as 45,000 people are dying each month because of direct violence, or disease, malnutrition, and starvation brought on by dislocation because of violence (Reuters, 2008). Reports come from a variety of sources including the millions of surviving victims who were first-hand witnesses; the UN’s monitoring mission, human rights organizations, official government reports, NGOs and other organizations, radio, blogs, and newspaper accounts.

The Conflict

            The DRC’s conflict is intimately connected to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Rwanda’s post-war Tutsi government invaded the Congo (then named Zaire) in 1996 to pursue extremist Hutu militias and helped to overthrow leader Mobutu Sese Seko from his thirty two year rule. The Rwandans installed rebel leader Laurent Kabilla, only to later turn against him when he was accused of stirring hatred towards Tutsis in the Congo. Rwanda intervened to try and remove him from power with the help of the Ugandans, and ignited a new regional conflict as Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe joined forces with Kabilla to fight off the Rwandans. Laurent Kabilla was assassinated in January of 2001, and replaced by his son Joseph Kabilla, who set up a power-sharing government and began “negotiating peace”[1] with some of the parties. He was eventually elected as President in 2006 (Reuters, 2008).

            The DRC’s infrastructure is in shambles. At least 5.4 million people are dead since 1998 from war related violence, hunger and disease, and at least 40,000 women and girls have been raped (although the actual number is probably significantly higher than this; Reuters, 2008). This conflict has been called the worst humanitarian crisis ever, with armies and militias increasingly recruiting children for their fighting. A January 2008 peace deal signed between the government and 22 of the rebel groups (but clearly excluding others such as the FDLR; The Economist, October 18th, 2008; 57) has not been able to contain the violence (Reuters, 2008).

Push for Democracy

            The first “post-war” elections in the DRC were delayed six times in two years, eventually happening in July of 2006 (Clark, 2007; 30). Much of the violence in North and South Kivu during that period was attributed to Nkunda’s rebel forces trying to increase military and political power. Nkunda represents the minority Tutsi (ethnic group) population in the DRC and his attacks have helped to increase anti-Tutsi sentiment while increasing support for Kabila across the country. The elections process was fraught with difficulty as over 26 million voters had to be registered, in an area with very little infrastructure[2] or government capability. The 2006 elections were the most expensive in history with the UN and the European Union (EU) providing almost 500 million US dollars for logistics. The voter turnout was around 75%, and international observers reported only isolated cases of voting irregularities and violence near polling stations. The elections were proclaimed an incredible success, despite the fact that many of the electoral candidates were rebel leaders still involved in violence across the country (Clark, 2007; 32). Joseph Kabila won the elections, but without the majority, requiring a runoff election in October. The runoff occurred between Kabila and his closest rival, Bemba, who was accused by the ICC a year later for crimes against humanity. Two days after the first round of elections, the forces of Bemba and Kabila fought in the streets (Clark, 2007; 33), as if nothing had changed. The war raged on, despite this new found “democracy”, even though the world subsequently forgot about the people of the Congo. The elections processes seem to have been more meaningful to the “western” world who still like to describe them as a “success” (Economist, October 18, 2008; 57) than to local actors who know the truth.

Trade, Investment and Debt

The World Bank (WB) has classified the DRC under its Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), making it eligible (according to the WB) to reduce the constraints on economic growth and poverty reduction imposed by the DRC’s debt-services burdens (WB, 2006). In reality, the WB and International Monetary Fund (IMF) are providing the human-rights abusing government of the Congo with a continual supply of funding that will eventually be extracted from the people (and not the borrowing government) through Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). One of the conditions of SAPs require the roll-back of state services, such as health care, education, etc. to generate funds to begin repaying debt. The continued financial support for a proven corrupt and human-rights abusing government by the WB and IMF is appalling, especially since it will be the poor and marginalized and not the borrowing government who will be the ones to suffer the effects. Stabilization and welfare spending targets required by the IMF were completely ignored by the Congolese government because of their need for increased military spending (EN, 2008). This internationally funded money then was used to finance the atrocities of the Congolese government instead of its proposed aim to help the people. The IMF and the WB have continued funding, despite receiving reports on the Congolese government’s misspending, and so are complicit in the crimes (EN, 2008). The effect of the WB and IMF’s policy has been said to be “legaliz(ing) the corporate looting of the Congo” with “foreign companies pay(ing) nothing to the government for lucrative mining concessions” (Ismi and Schwartz, 2007)

The Congo has fallen on the Inward FDI Potential Index, which ranks countries by how they do in attracting inward direct investment, from 73rd (out of 140 economies) in 1988 to 139th (out of 141 economies) in 2006 (UNCTAD, 2006). The lack of basic infrastructure such as roads or railways combined with continual conflict make investment and trades a difficult venture for many local and international corporations despite the fact that the DRC does have a major deep-water port that is currently not being utilized and is abundant in natural resources. The Congo was ranked 175th out of 178 countries on the Doing Business report of 2007. The institutional environment is not conducive to business, with the country’s financial sector completely underdeveloped. Real growth in trade of goods and services declined significantly in 2007 from 11.1% in 2005-6 to only 0.7% in 2007, giving the DRC the rank of 151st out of 160 countries in terms of real growth in trade (WB, 2008).

 

The Complicit

The governments of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi are all accused of supporting rebel groups that fight within the DRC. The government of Rwanda refuses to allow the FDLR’s demands to return to Rwanda and transform themselves into a legitimate political party, and also refuses to negotiate or participate in peace talks with the group. The UN and other governments who backed a January 2008 peace deal addressed Nkunda’s rebellion, but offered no forum for talks with the FDLR, ignoring one of the key actors in the crisis and ensuring the conflict’s continuation (The Economist, October 18, 2008; 57).

The governments of Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Sudan, Namibia, China, Canada, the United States and several other countries are complicit in their support for the human-rights abusing Congolese government.  The United States, along with supporting the human-rights abusing DRC government, paints the war in the Congo as a French issue, refusing to send troops or support the mission in the Congo until France does something about Iraq (Cowan, 2005). Owing over a billion dollars (or 68% of the regular budget arrears) to the UN, the United States’ lack of financial commitment means fewer troops and support for UN missions, which could help alleviate the suffering of the people of the DRC (Global Policy Forum, 2008). The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 2005 pleaded with member states for assistance to stop escalating violence in northeastern DRC. Only Uruguay responded, with 750 troops to replace over 5,000 departing Ugandans (Cowan, 2005). Departing a few years later, the Uruguayans were eventually replaced by an Indian contingent of 4,500, only after the Senegalese refused to move in (IANS, 2008).  The international community has failed to prevent these atrocities by their continual inaction and lack of full support for peace processes and so is complicit in the atrocities (Cowan, 2005).

Several other international governments are also guilty of complicity in the crimes of the DRC. The government of Libya provides arms and logistical support to Congolese government forces, while North Korea sent advisors to train government troops. Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe all have supported the government of DRC, financially, logistically and in arms (Ware, 2001). The government of China made a deal with the Congolese government worth $9 billion to get access to several of Congo’s minerals in return for building a highway and a railroad in the Congo (Faul, November 3, 2008). The international community has failed to properly respond to the crisis. International humanitarian aid to the Congo was $188 million or only $3.23 per person in 2004 (with a death toll of about 5.4 million people). Contrast this to the aid received for the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 (with a death toll of about 150,000) which netted over $2 billion in humanitarian aid from the international community (IRC, 2004). International humanitarian aid has been controversial. In fact, the massive influx of humanitarian aid to Rwandan refugees in the Congo following the 1994 Rwandan genocide has been cited as actually strengthening or starting many militias who are now committing atrocities in the DRC (Clark, 2007)

Perhaps surprisingly, Canadians are among these guilty actors. Many Canadians are guilty for purchasing or using products[3] that have components that were possibly sourced in the war zones of the DRC and obtained through illegal or unethical means that support human-rights violating actors who are ensuring the war continues in this region. The retail companies which sell these products are guilty of complicity, along with the individual buyers, buyer companies, distributors and marketers who buy, sell, advertise or use these products. 

The DRC is home to 80% of the world’s supply of coltan (columbite-tantalite), a metallic ore that is processed into tantalite and used in many electronic devices (Dizolele, 2007), and currently supplies at least 15% of the world’s coltan needs (Essick et al., 2001). The world’s largest supply of cobalt is also found and mined in the DRC (Cobalt Development Institute, 2008) along with wolframite, tungsten ore,  tin, and several other minerals (Nolen, 2008). Human Rights Watch researchers claim “there is a direct link between human rights abuses and the exploitation of resources in areas in the DRC occupied by Rwanda and Uganda” (Essick, 2001). Rebels strategically attack coltan-rich villages in the North, causing environmental destruction in the Congo’s protected national parks that have nearly decimated the gorilla populations, and whose profits fund rebel and government projects that are responsible for mass murder, rape, torture, and a plethora of other atrocities in the DRC (Essick, 2001).  

Many of these minerals are smuggled out of the Congo into neighboring Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi to export onto the global market. This is indicated by the increase in official statistics on the export of coltan for these countries following their occupation in northeastern Congo (Essick, 2001), and their official export statistics which include minerals not found natively in these countries (Nolen, 2008). Profits from smuggling often go directly into the pockets of warring parties. Officials and miners would seem to corroborate these accounts, with statements such as, “The armed groups are all involved in mining – even our Congolese armed forces,” and “The FDLR are the ones controlling the coltan mines and they are very strong”. The mining ministry claims that the FDLR controls at least 20 percent of mining in the eastern area of the country (Nolen, 2008). Rebel groups often use forced labor, illegal monopolies and civilian murder to extract these resources, earning up to $20 million a month in profits, making continued war to ensure access to resources incredibly lucrative (Essick, 2001).

The Congolese government and armed forces also serve to profit.  Along with taking bribes at numerous military and police checkpoints that allow smuggled minerals through, the government has also been accused of using “taxation” of minerals to line their own pockets. The armed forces have even been accused of forcing the local population to mine its cassiterite mine at Bisie, as essentially slave labor (Nolen, 2008). This contravenes Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states that no one shall be held in slavery (UN, 1948). The profits from mining, either through bribery or “taxation” of the trade means there is little incentive to move against the rebels and actually stop the war. The cost to bribe a border guard (who are rarely paid their official $40 a month salary) to smuggle a shipment of minerals across the borders is about $350, in contrast to the government’s “taxation” on minerals which makes legal exportation of minerals cost upwards of $17,000 per shipment. Occupation of land by the army is more “acceptable” under war, so mines are simply taken over and exploited. The governments then, along with individual soldiers often serve to profit from continuing conflict. Businesses dealing with the smuggled goods also have little incentive to stop, with statements such as, “it’s not as easy as, ‘get out of the business and wait.’ There’s a huge investment here: half a million dollars” (Nolen, 2008).

Although many of these companies claim to have “ethical business practices”, they are complicit in the war crimes in the DRC by not insisting on regulations that prevent using war-related minerals in their business practices. Tracing the supply chain for coltan is deemed by the mining industry as nearly impossible, as most ore passes through at least 10 hands before it ends up in electronic devices (Essick, 2001). This is interesting considering the Kimberly process was able to overcome this to make regulations in the diamond industry to prevent many violence-related diamonds from entering the marketplace (Kimberly Process, 2008). Most mining in the DRC is done by peasants attracted to the possibility of making a few dollars a day, including children with estimates that suggest that 30 percent of schoolchildren in northeastern Congo have forgone schooling to dig for coltan. This ore is collected by local traders (often rebels), who sell to regional traders located in Rwanda and Uganda. In Rwanda alone, more than 20 international mineral trading companies have been reported by the UN as importing minerals from the Congo. These import companies sell to companies such as AVX, Epcos, Hitachi, Kemet, NEC and Vishay, which manufacture capacitors. These capacitors then go into products manufactured by Alcatel, Compaq, Dell, Ericsson, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lucent, Motorola, Nokia and Solectron, to name a few. Many of the companies claimed to have asked their suppliers whether the minerals supplied to them were mined in the DRC, but the CEO of AVX, Dick Rosen says they “don’t have an idea where (the metal) comes from. There’s no way to tell. I don’t know how to control it”. Epcos denies using conflict resources, despite the fact that their own suppliers A&M Minerals and Metals claim they “couldn’t tell you for 100 percent that this material (from Uganda) didn’t come from the Congo. It could have been smuggled across the border” (Essick, 2001).

At least 10 Canadian mining corporations were implicated for supporting major human rights offenders in the DRC by the UN’s 2000 “Report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Congo” (UNSC, 2002) and have yet to be further investigated or punished for these crimes. Anvil Mining, a Canadian copper mining company working in the DRC, was accused of providing logistics to troops in the massacre of close to 100 people; a charge that they vehemently argue was accidental, unknown at the time and forced upon them by local legalities (Anvil Mining, 2008). All of the ten corporations in the report were accused of violating the guidelines of the OECD; some were even accused of bribing officials to gain access to land and its containing resources. Barrick Gold, another Canadian mining business, is supplied by and partnered with Adastra mining, which received a one billion dollar deal for control of mines in the Congo at Kolwezi (for cobalt) and Kipushi (for zinc) from Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire (ADFL) before they were officially in power and in legal control of said resources (Snow and Barouski, 2006).

The Canadian government is guilty for supporting major human rights offenders, specifically Joseph Kabila and the RPF. They are also guilty of complicity for supporting the implicated mining companies accused of violations, by allowing mining-friendly tax laws (NRC, 2008) and for not further investigating and punishing those implicated in the UN report. The Canadian government is also guilty of refusing the UN’s request for peacekeeping assistance and aid, and instead funneling these resources for the continued illegal war in Afghanistan. Canada has all but abandoned its peacekeeping missions (with less than 56 troops worldwide), despite the fact that peacekeeping was recognized as a strong defining Canadian value by 69% of Canadians in a national survey (Staples, 2006). Canadian troops and support are needed in the Congo to help stop the human rights abuses, but the responsibilities to the international community are being ignored by the current Canadian government.

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Canada’s lead agency for development assistance abroad, committed $33 million for projects and initiatives in the DRC in 2006-7. These projects focused mostly on political and economic governance and access to primary health care (CIDA, 2008), and mostly ignored the broader humanitarian situation. The humanitarian situation in the DRC has been described as “the worst humanitarian crisis ever “(Reuters, 2008). The situation has gotten so bad in recent weeks that thousands of local Congolese demonstrators have taken to physically attacking the UN compound in Goma for what they say is the UN’s failure to protect them against rebel attacks and provide them with the basic necessities of life (AP, 2008). The UN says its first priority is re-supplying clinics that have been looted by retreating government troops. Unfortunately, this means that refugees who haven’t eaten for days are met with shipments of soap and jerry cans (to prevent disease) while they wait for death by starvation. These refugees have recently taken up with the demonstrators in violently attacking anything identified with the UN (Faul, November 3, 2008).

The Silence of the Media

              The mainstream media has largely ignored the Congolese conflict, instead favoring to spotlight more “popular” conflicts and issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan or Darfur. Stories about the DRC are mostly relegated to a small column (of less than 1,000 words) in the middle of the paper, or a quick blurb on the news, that is shorter than the laptop commercial that follows it. None of the stories collected during the past 3 months about the Congo appeared on the front page of the paper, even though the Congo is arguably the most violent conflict and largest humanitarian crisis currently happening in the world. In three major Canadian newspapers (The Globe and Mail, The National Post and The Toronto Star) the conflict in the Congo was reported only about half as much as the conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq[4], despite the fact that the death tolls are considerably higher in the Congo (several hundred thousand in Afghanistan and Iraq versus the 5.4 million deaths in the DRC). The Congo has just recently started to become the “issue of the moment” and is receiving slightly more press than normal, but still nowhere near the amount that stories about Iraq or Afghanistan receive in the mainstream media. Most of this press focuses on the victims, projects, aid or organizations working to make a difference, or the “tribal” or “ethnic” components fueling the crimes and not the resource extraction or international complicity in the crimes. During the chaotic month of August 2008, the DRC began descending into the highest level of violence it had seen in many years. Despite this fact, the Economist, the Globe and Mail and the National Post did not even mention the fighting in the Congo once during this period, except to mention mineral extraction projects and the profits they were earning (Globe and Mail, August 12, 2008).

              The media keeps highlighting the “successful elections” (Economist, October 18, 2008; 57), talking about the DRC with almost surprise that peace has not yet been found despite its new “democracy”. The journalists predict that things will soon get worse “fear(ing) that huge, frightening massacres could start again…”. This despite the fact that hundreds of people had been slaughtered, assaulted or dislocated in singular events during that same month, which many would consider to be massacres (HRW, November 6, 2008). The Economist reported that more than one hundred thousand people were forced to flee their homes since mid-August of 2008 because of escalating violence (Economist, October 18, 2008; 57), even though they themselves had not reported a single thing about this violence until October.

              Almost surprisingly, the Globe and Mail seems to portray rebel leader Nkunda as almost caring in contrast to incapable UN troops. Statements such as “(Nkunda) declared he was opening a humanitarian corridor to allow aid to get through and refugees to get home. To ease food shortages, rebels… allowed farmers to reach Goma in trucks packed with (food)” and “rebels seem to be holding a self-imposed ceasefire” (Faul, November 3, 2008) are found in the same article which criticizes the UN’s inability to secure food for refugees.  Nothing was mentioned of the UN member states’ lack of financial or troop support, the main reason for the food shortages among the refugees. Most of the Globe and Mail articles completely ignored the resource components to the war, or mentioned them only in passing, such as “(the peace process) threatened to cut off warlords and neighboring-country governments from their access to the illegal mineral trade” (Nolen, October 18, 2008). The majority of columns that did mention the resource component mentioned only the warlords or neighboring government’s role and not that of international companies or governments that are also guilty. One article was even titled “How Rebels Profit From Blood and Soil” (Nolen, October 29, 2008; emphasis added), entirely ignoring the international component. Often, the “festering hatreds left over from the 1994 Rwandan genocide” are cited as fueling the conflict (Faul, October 30, 2008), ignoring the intense structural or economic components that clearly play a role. Few editorials about the Congo have been written in the past year. For example, in the Toronto Star, only 2 op-eds that mention the Congo have been published in the past year; one in March, and one in November (Dallaire, 2008; Goar, 2008). Dallaire’s editorial mentioned the Congo only in passing, saying “We did not intervene to stop the slaughter in the Congo”, and even then only in the past tense, as if the fighting had already stopped.

Resistance

              Mfuni Kazadi, Secretary-General of the group the Coalition for the Cancellation of the Illegitimate Debts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, opposes the WB’s demand that the Congo pay debts accumulated by Mobutu. Kazadi has said,

“The Rwandans were used by the US as puppets to fight for American interests. When the war started, there were American ships that gathered all the communications for Rwanda’s and Uganda’s armies. US authorities said that the Congo is too big and must be divided into four countries. The resistance of the Congolese to this partition has led to the death of (more than) four million people.” (Ismi and Schwartz, 2007)     

The enduring resistance of the Congolese to the balkanization desired by the US is cited by Kazadi as the real reasons for the continued war (Ismi and Schwartz, 2007). Other local scholars, such as Felix Ulombe Kaputu who was wrongly jailed and tortured by the Congolese government, have also spoken out against the continuing violence (Anderson, 2007).  Local resistance seemed to be voiced only from afar, by refugees living in new countries and not by locals still enduring the conflict. Local resistance forces were incredibly difficult to locate, possibly because it is too dangerous for them to speak out in their current situation.

              Some international resistance has been incredibly vocal. Uhuru radio, an “online voice of international African revolution” has been one critic of the international role in the Congo’s conflict (Uhurunews.com, 2008). Many organizations exist with the intention of bringing awareness or support to the plight of the Congolese, most of them based in the “global North” (such as Friends of the Congo; Congo Global Action; Breaking the Silence; Congo Vision; Resistance Congo; Congo Church Association; Ambassador Girls Scholarship Program; among many others). It is in the “western” media, the Socialist Review, that the connection between the peace deals signed and rushed by international governments and the exploitation of resources from the Congo is mentioned. Third World Report reporter Leo Zeilig tells us that the peace deal “triggered two important processes (in the Congo). The first saw the return of some multinational companies…The second process… (saw) rebel commanders responsible for much of the killing and slaughter in the war were incorporated into the Congolese army” (Zeilig, 2006). Sixty-six international humanitarian agencies currently work in the Congo (Reuters, Who works where, 2008). These range from hunger programs to medical assistance, mostly based in the “global North”. The United Nations has sent in over 17,000 troops to help stop the violence (MONUC, 2008). They have also appointed a Special Rapporteur to do a report on the Situation of Human Rights in the DRC (APIC, 1999). Resistance is mostly informal, in the form of blogs, or “leftist” newspapers.

Conclusions

              One of the most frustrating parts of the whole situation in the Congo is separating out those who claim to be helping from those who are complicit in the crimes; often one and the same group or individual. The contradiction of the international community, which on the one hand, sends aid and support to the Congo, and, on the other, exploits its resources and ensures continuing conflict, is staggering. Congo is very much a modern-day colony of the “western” world, used and abused for what it can offer the “west”, and regarded as a backwards place beyond assistance. The “west” will keep “helping”, as long as it serves their interests; and the conflict in the Congo will keep being painted as an indigenous problem in the heart of Africa. This conflict is not an issue of ethnicities, militias or rebellions. It is a continuation of the colonial project that was started by invading Europeans so long ago. It is about extracting resources, gaining profit and power. This war continues because the truth remains shrouded in propaganda, and because the international community is ignoring the underlying causes of the conflict. This conflict must stop, and justice must begin to emerge in the DRC. Too long have these people lived in hell, and too long has the international community ignored our fellow humans’ cries for help.

             

 

 

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43)  Uhurunews.com. 2008. Online Voice of the International African Revolution. Burning Spear Publications. http://uhurunews.com/.

44)  UN. December 10, 1948. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. General Assembly resolution 217 A (III). http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html.

45)  UNHCR- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. November 20, 1989 .Convention on the Rights of the Child. http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/k2crc.htm.

46)  United Nations Security Council. 2002. Report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and other Forms of Wealth in the Congo. http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/DRC%20S%202002%201146.pdf.

47)  United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. 2006. FDI Indices. http://www.unctad.org/Templates/Page.asp?intItemID=2468&lang=1.

48)  Ware, Natalie D. December, 2001. Congo War and the Role of Coltan. Inventory of Conflict and Environment (ICE) Case Studies. http://www.american.edu/ted/ice/congo-coltan.htm.

49)  World Bank (WB). March 9, 2006. Republic of Congo Reaches Decision Point Under the Enhanced HIPC Debt Relief Initiative. Press Release Number 2006/301/AFR. http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTDEBTDEPT/0,,contentMDK:20847652~menuPK:64166657~pagePK:64166689~piPK:64166646~theSitePK:469043,00.html.

50)  World Bank (WB). April 2008. The Republic of Congo: Trade Brief. World Trade Indicators 2008. http://info.worldbank.org/etools/wti2008/docs/brief45.pdf.

51)  Winter, Mark. 2008. Uses of Cobalt. WebElements. http://www.webelements.com/cobalt/uses.html.

[1] I use this term lightly, since I believe Joseph Kabila was only trying to secure more voters and power for himself and not actually interested in peace. This is the term Reuters used to describe the events.

[2] For example there are less than 500 km of paved roads in the DRC (Clark, 2007; 32). The DRC is also home to an incredibly corrupt government and civil service, with a corruption perceptions index ranking of 171st out of 180 countries in the world (Transparency International, 2008).

[3] This includes laptop computers, cellular phones, jet engines, rockets, cutting tools, camera lenses, X-ray film, ink jet printers, hearing aids, pacemakers, airbag protection systems, ignition and motor control modules, GPS, ABS systems in automobiles, game consoles such as Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo, video cameras, digital still cameras, sputtering targets, chemical process equipment, cathodic protection systems for steel structures such as bridges, water tanks, prosthetic devices for humans – hips, plates in the skull, also mesh to repair bone removed after damage by cancer, suture clips, corrosion resistant fasteners, screws, nuts, bolts, high temperature furnace parts, high temperature alloys for air and land based turbines, gas turbine parts, and strong permanent magnets. It is also used as a pigment in pottery, glass enamels and paints, varnishes and printing inks, among other things. It also includes anything with the alloy alnico, or Cobalt 60, which is a commercial source of high energy radiation used to destroy cancerous tissue or detect flaws in metal parts (TIC, 2007; Winter, 2008).

 

[4] Over a 90 day period, there were 118 stories about the Congo and more than 200 stories each about Iraq and Afghanistan in the Globe and Mail. There were 87 stories about the Congo while there were more than 500 each for Iraq and Afghanistan in the National Post. There were 37 stories about the Congo, 141 stories about Afghanistan, and 88 stories about Iraq in The Toronto Star. This was replicated in major international publications such as the Economist, which had only 28 stories about the Congo, 144 stories about Iraq, and 91 stories about Afghanistan for the same period (The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Star, The Economist, August- November 2008).



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Update on the conflict free-laptop search

So I’m incredibly frustrated.

I have received emails back. After several hours on the phone, getting hung up on and redirected, I am sent some information by email. I have talked to the people whose job it is to secure ethical purchasing (or at least market it) and they are the ones sending the information; so I am hopeful that I will receive answers. I am at this point with several companies.

What they send however, is the same old stock line. I already had most of this information (if not all of it). It is available publicly on their websites, and was already thoroughly researched and looked into– but didn’t answer my questions. In fact, most of my time in this struggle has been spent reading through websites, news, etc. trying to find out the details before I bother calling so that I can ask specific questions once I find who I need to talk to. Digging into sourcing is difficult!

The same stock lines. They don’t seem really willing to give out any more information. I’m sure it must have to clear some board room or get approval first.  Heaven forbid they just tell me the truth (though more than likely, they probably have NO idea what this is themselves). I cannot, in good faith, purchase any of these products at this point. Their claims to me are not enough. Their promise of change in the future is not enough. They might still support human rights abuse. They might still support war. It’s hard to tell the truth.

I’m glad that many advertise themselves as ethical and feel like they are making a real effort to change. Some perhaps are. But most I would suspect, are not. They spew out these fancy claims of responsibility and have NO idea what’s really going on in their own product line. They are taking miniscule steps, and sometimes not even that.

This mess of being disconnected happened over time.  It will take time to fix it, it just won’t happen overnight. I realise this. But with no real regulations in place yet to enforce the “rules” against human rights abuses- don’t expect much to really happen. Some companies may really strive to make change, but many others will do the bare minimum to make themselves more marketable and continue to abuse because it is easier to just do nothing. Where does the abuse stop?

I don’t think there is anyone out there (aside from maybe a few people with some severe mental issues) who would willingly want to commit these abuses with their purchases. But we are often left with little choice, or are led to believe marketing propaganda or ethical claims. So why does this continue to happen?

Admitting you are part of the evil is the first step. This does take courage.  Auditing your suppliers is the next. Taking action to stop the abuses and use non-abusing suppliers is the next step. Incorporating a strategic business policy that will prevent human rights abuses as much as humanly possible– this should be legislated.

I am in the process of making up more detailed questions to send back to the companies, about their continuing abuses and how they are planning to stop it in the future. Hopefully I will get more than the same old stock line this time. Hopefully I will get one step closer to the truth.


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my quest for a conflict free laptop

I am just in the process of organizing my journals so that i can tell you what process i have gone through thus far in my quest for a conflict free laptop, a laptop that doesn’t fuel a war or support human rights violations. this struggle has so far been going on for almost 6 months– several letters, phone calls, emails, and research and I am no where near finding a conflict free laptop for myself.  i have promised myself i will not get one until i can find a completely conflict free brand.

i have been told by many that they have “ethical purchasing policies”– but none have so far been really able to tell me what that means in any full details. it’s incredibly frustrating to me. one company that told me that they have “ethical purchasing policies”– turned out to have a supplier who has admitted publicly that they don’t know where their cobalt and coltan comes from and that it was possible that their product was sourced in the conflict zones of the Congo. seems contradictory to me? Most of those i was able to contact however, wouldn’t give me the names of their suppliers, for competition reasons. this makes it impossible to track and verify. i have yet to receive replies from many. and no body yet exists to monitor these atrocities… so how do we know?

i’ve always told myself that i’m a good person. but i feel guilty every single day for the luxuries i have. so i decided to stop buying. i tried very hard to cut down my spending, cut out the excesses and live more simply. violence-free. but i have a long way to go. i am getting closer every day. that type of life isn’t for everyone, but something must change in the way we consume.

the more i try to find out where things come from– the more i find out just how unaware we are of how we affect the rest of the world.  we are each just one person- but together we have a real voice. if we make our voice known, maybe this violence can stop and companies will stop using conflict resources.

write to the brands that you use and ask them where their products come from. who is affected by them? demand they stop using conflict resources. this is the only way it will ever change.

–RS


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