Descending into madness. Time for change in the DRC.

Ok, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is perhaps not descending into madness. It has already been there for quite some time. Violence there is out of control right now, and things are getting worse not better. Talks of peace are hollow and full of corruption. The international community seems to ignore the problem entirely, instead hoping they can use the corruption to their advanatage to get rights to resources or political support, resisting spending enough money or providing enough assistance to actually make a difference. There seems to be little being offered in the way of real transformations of violence or ensuring lasting peace and most definitely very little hope that it’s coming anytime in the near future.

The population in many areas live in near constant fear. Many more people live as virtual transients, floating from village to village or town to town, displaced from their homes and unable to return. Forced labour (ie. slavery) and torture are on the rise. Rape and sexual mutulation has been a massive tool of the war; affecting both men and women (although women probably in much higher numbers), and is used to demoralize and humiliate. Humiliating and torturous methods of castrations and sterilizations are used to help exterminate populations as reprisals.

A disturbing case of a 3 year old little girl dying after a brutal rape by a group of rebel soldiers sends chills down the spine. Other stories, including horrors such as soldiers digging holes into the ground, lining them with razor blades and forcing the men to self-castrate; or the cutting of babies out of women’s bellies and forcing them to eat their own fetuses make me feel physically ill. Male children have been forced to rape their mothers and sisters; fathers their daughters. It is thoroughly disturbing to think about; but we need to think about this. This cannot continue to happen. Why are we sitting back and doing nothing to stop it?

This war is not about ethnicities. It is not about ancient hatreds or blood-hungry populations. It is about years of political manipulations, massive theft of resources and land, denial of rights and we are all connected to it whether we truly know the extent or not.

Every time we buy an electronic product- we are connected. We are connected through the political choices of our elected leaders. We are also connected because we are all humans. We all share the same blood, the same organs, the same flesh, the same souls… We need to work together to develop solutions to transform this violence. Too many innocent people are dying, being tortured or enslaved, raped or beaten and money is just not a good enough reason for it.

Please. Take the time. When you buy an electronic product, call the manufacturers or the corporations that sell, distribute or produce them. Ask them, just ask them what they are doing to stop war resources from getting into their products. You don’t have to take it much further. When enough people make the connection between what we use, where it comes from and what effect this is having and start to demand that corporations have ethical purchasing– something more positive must come.

Please. Take the time. Write a letter to your government. Ask them to send support, either financially, or in peacekeeping troop personnel to help build peace in this region. Ask them to create policies to ensure corporations are acting in legal and ethical manners throughout the world.

Alone, we do very little, but our voices together can help to make a change.

If you need suggestions on what to write or who you can contact, please feel free to ask me (– I’ll be happy to help!


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My quest for a conflict free laptop: Apple

So one would think Apple  would have an ethical purchasing policy that doesn’t contribute to war, death and destruction, right? I certainly thought so. Especially since I read about the Apple Supplier Code of Conduct and their talk of corporate social responsibility on their website.  To on the one hand cause or contribute to war or human rights abuses, and on the other project an image of humanitarianism and social responsibility would seem quite contradictory, wouldn’t it?

Reading further into their actual code– it states that its purpose is to ensure that working conditions are safe whereever Apple products are made. It doesn’t mention anything about where their raw materials are purchased, and what they support.  It says that they expanded their compliance program to the “next layer” by auditing 34 companies that provide components for them. Again, only addressing some of the plants where components are manufactured and not the places supplying the components with raw materials. Also, what about their supplier’s supplier? Besides which, 34 is only a small portion of the supply companies involved in the process. It’s a start, but clearly not enough to give me peace about their products.

My first contact with Apple was incredibly frustrating. When I asked about whether they had an ethical purchasing or supply policy (even though it IS clearly on their website), I was met with, “what do you mean?” by their sales representatives.  The first sales lady went on to tell me that they build their own keyboards and other products and she doesn’t THINK they use slave labour. After explaining to her what I meant, and why I was actually calling, and telling her about how some of the raw materials support major human rights abuses,  I asked if I could be referred to someone who KNOWS whether this is happening or not for sure, and could explain to me the process they take to ensure it doesn’t there at Apple.

She was horrified and told me how terrible that it was that some products contribute to war and people don’t know. I definitely agreed.

So I was referred to their corporate location. After talking to three different people at this location on the phone, I had gotten no further. No one knew who exactly I should speak to about this, or what I was even really talking about. I was told to send a letter to corporate headquarters, which I then promptly did.

I also sent several emails and suggestions using their website’s feedback mechanism. I sent soo many because it has soo many different sections, and I didn’t know where my question fit in their contact structure.  No definitive word yet on whether Apple is among the guilty or not.

How is the question “does your company have an ethical purchasing policy”  soo difficult to answer? Either the company does, or does not have an ethical purchasing policy. If it does, “what does this ethical policy entail?” should not be that difficult a question to answer– you should be able to explain the steps you take to ensure ethical purchasing without too much difficulty. Come on corporations-get a clue!

How hard is it to get a straight answer?

Do any of your products use raw materials from a war zone? Do they contribute to human rights abuses? Do you use slave labour, child labour, or have unfair working conditions? These are yes or no questions that should be answered.  If no, I will make my purchasing accordingly. Why is it all these companies seem like they have never been asked this before? Why do they not seem to really care? Profits are clearly more important than people, otherwise they would take steps to ensure that they weren’t contributing to this chaos. They would be proud to report the full details that they are not contributing to war, human rights abuses and destruction. They could advertise true coporate social responsibility.

Personally, I no longer believe the claims of corporate responsibility and I don’t know how the companies could ever regain my trust except through thorough structures to stop the atrocities, and full transparency to prove they have actually stopped.

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My quest for a conflict-free laptop: Hewlett-Packard and Acer

Many of the resources in our everyday gadgets are mined in conflict zones, by war profiteers. Cobalt, coltan, tantalite, copper, tin, aluminum, diamonds, …. these metals and minerals that are in our cellphones, our computers, our blackberries, our i-pods, our devices, all our everyday gadgets and luxuries could have helped to ensure a civil war continued. They could have helped to ensure destruction, chaos and death continued. For example, the resource extraction of raw materials in the DR Congo which is used in many products is helping to kill as many as 45,000 people a month. It is also happening in many other parts of world, and we are supporting it by our purchases, unaware.

This angered me beyond belief to think I would be contributing to this. So I decided to find just one electronic device that has proven it is not using conflict resources. I started with a laptop computer.

my first email went to Acer, since this is the brand I currently own. This brand was chosen at the time because it was very cheap (like $500). It broke down slighty over a year after purchase (and just after the warranty had expired), and I was told that it would be cheaper to get a new one rather than to fix it. What happened to quality products that last a lifetime? Repair shops are barely used anymore– it is cheaper to just get new gadgets because technology is soo rapidly changing and so our old gadgets wind up in landfills. Some technology is recycled, but not much.

People could have been enslaved at gunpoint to mine the metals used to make this product. People could have died, been slaughtered, attacked and brutalized to make this product.  People could have been thrown off their ancestral land to make this product. It was no doubt an incredibly energy-intensive and waste producing process. It flew around the world, stopping at probably at least 10 sites to get manufactured, creating pollution along the way. It might have supported war, warlords or buying weapons. It might have ensured a dictator stayed in power that much longer. All so I can have the convenience of a laptop computer. How exciting!

I am contributing to war, destruction and environmental degradation by my purchase and I didn’t know it when I made the purchase. And we cast all our gadgets aside thoughtlessly because we want only the latest, unaware the damage we may be causing elsewhere. Why do we do nothing? The structures in place make it very hard to know the truth. I would take having an “ethical business policy” to mean they don’t support these kinds of atrocities. Shouldn’t it mean this?

The trouble is we seem to have little choice. How many brands are entirely conflict free? How do we even know? What body is in place to even check? Should we just trust the claim of  “ethical purchasing policies”?

I emailed Acer a couple of months ago to ask them if they had an ethical purchasing policy at their company, and what this meant in any great detail. I have yet to receive a response. I have just emailed them for a second time, — and am still waiting on a response. They have no mention on their website about an ethical purchasing policy (where some of the others do), so I’m really not expecting much at this point from them.

Hewlett-Packard suprised me. Its website goes into great detail to explain how they express “global citizenship” and environmental concerns. They were also the first company I came across that did have a list of suppliers available for scruitiny– offering some kind of transparency and responsibility. Sadly, there were some of its suppliers who have admitted to using conflict resources (or not knowing where their resources came from) in public media– and only 95% of the suppliers are listed. This leaves 5% unaccounted for. Contacting every supplier on the list, only led to a longer list of their suppliers and more companies to check and inquire. With the possibility of some conflict resources in my computer– my search must go on. I have called HP to ask about what their “corporate social responsibility”, as advertised on their website, really meant. I am waiting on a phone call back, after being redirected several times to different departments, getting hung up on, having to make 4 different phone calls to different offices and waiting on hold for half an hour on each different call.

No wonder people don’t bother to check.

Perhaps this is one company that can be convinced to change– so I will send emails, and hope for the best. Can we convince them that they need to be more responsible– I sure hope so. These companies are all making profits. Can they not use these profits to create structures that prevent conflict resources from getting into the product supply?  Can they not have an ethical purchasing policy that actually means something? Can they not take steps to be more sustainable? It would be in their interest to be more energy efficient– they could save money. It would be in all our interest for them to have an ethical business practice that actually meant something.

Can our governments not tax these companies to ensure they are respecting international human rights conventions instead of giving them great tax breaks?

The most frustrating part of this whole struggle is the never-ending chase that it seems to create. One inquiry leads to 50 inquiries, which leads to 100 more… how many hands does each product pass through before it gets to us, and what happens at each stage?

I’m not sure I’ll ever get 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.


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violence on my mind.

I’ve never understood violence. perhaps it’s because i never had to face it until i was older. not old enough to understand it, but old enough to not be scarred for life. my childhood was happy, safe, loving and with every possible advantage a child could start with. that’s why i’m where i am today.

but many are not so lucky as i. they face danger every day. they know the feel of starvation, their bellies swollen from days without food. violence surrounds them. many children must roam in packs before nightfall to escape their prey by roaving gangs of thugs who would force them into captivity, torture, abuse, violence, and drugs. initiate them by making them rape their own mothers and sisters, then making them slaughter their village in the most degrading ways. then they make them burn the villages down, making them feel they are now alone– with no place to go and no family left to care for them. and they are turned into soldiers, fueled by snorts of cocaine and gunpowder and calmed by weed. feared into submission, eventually they begin to become killing machines on their own people. they are led to slaughter against government and other rebel groups who kill them as though they were adult soldiers.  i climbed trees and played sports and had family and friends…

and those who do manage not to die or hide from the destruction are only spared for so long. the raids will come back. they flee into the forests, facing starvation, dangerous animals, and the continuing violence for years to come. perhaps for the rest of our lifetime. 

we consider ourselves civilized. somehow different from the past. but we are the same– perhaps even worse. because today we hide the shame away. we pretend the problems do not exist and continue with our never-ending consumerism. we use our products, unaware of the effects the resources we use every day have on places on the other side of the world. we are not aware that they come from mines that have been slaved by communities, forced by guns and machetes to dig for copper, tin, cobalt, gold, coltan, diamonds, and all the other minerals that are in our computers, electronic equipment and luxuries. unaware that they have made profits to violently abusing parties making war.  

with as much as $20 million a month in profits from one mine or resource, who could resist? the main perpetrators of these crimes against humanity are profiting from war. the companies who buy these resources, and sell them to other companies are all profiting from war. they are making incredible profits. and are protected from crimes others pay dearly for with white-collar sentences.

if they are all profiting from war– what incentive do they have to make it stop?  there are many of these metals and minerals available in plentiful amounts in Canada. they are also available in Austrailia and several other countries. why do they obtain their resources from the war zones (or neighbouring countries)? because they are cheaper. because the company can then make more profit for themselves.

 the companies may claim that they get the resources from neighbouring countries– but there have also been many companies admit; they can’t be sure where the resources actually come from. smugglers come across the borders and sell them in neighbouring country markets through contacts. there’s no way to be sure. there’s also no structure in place to ensure this. it’s interesting because some of the neighbouring countries listed as supplying resources, do not even have mines for these resources in their own country. clearly, they must be getting it from elsewhere. perhaps from the warring neighbouring country where it is plentiful.

the kimberly process was brought out to stop conflict diamonds and resources from getting into our luxuries; becoming popular with the movie Blood Diamond. and everyone focused their attention to diamonds, unaware of the effect their cellphones, cameras and laptops all had on the world. these goodies that we all trade in so frequently for the latest gadget. unaware that our laptop caused death, destruction and chaos somewhere else in the world.

it’s time we became aware. these companies need to know that it’s not okay for them to continue making profits from violence. they need to hear your voice telling them that they must find a way to avoid using conflict resources for their products.

the market is driven by the demand (well, in theory). we need to start demanding these companies stop using conflict resources or stop purchasing them. these companies should use their profits to create structures  to ensure that they are no longer fueling violence. this will serve far better for humanity than any amount of charity they can give. it is their product line and they should have “ethical purchasing policies” that actually mean something.

if there is no profit to be had for rebels, companies and governments — there is no incentive to continue the violence.

we watch the violence on tv (or perhaps read about it here) and think. there’s nothing i can do. or i give to charity. but we need to do more. we need to write letters to our governments and the companies and tell them to stop fueling violence. if there is no incentive to continue violence– it will not continue. we live in a democracy here in Canada. supposedly. sometimes i wonder. do our politicians listen to us? or is it that we don’t tell them what we want? if we don’t voice our opinion and have it respected– whatever that opinion is– we do not live in a democracy. it is not the voice of the people. it is the voice of some.

we live in an age where communication makes us all soo incredibly accesible. information is everywhere. it is soo easy to write to officials by email. find out what’s going on, and write everyone you can. tell them what you feel, even if it’s- I disagree with this war or this law. you don’t have to go into details. just state your opinion. they must respect our opinion– or else we seriously need to re-evaluate the effectiveness of our democracy. politicians must be held accountable. but so must we.

**Please read the folder- “my quest for a conflict free laptop” if you’d like to follow my struggle to buy a conflict free computer. I have been looking for one for about six months and have yet to find one for sure! this will be a continuing update as i try more and more companies in my quest.


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Blood on Canadian hands.

***This is an adaptation of several essays I have written over the past semester. It combines many of the facts I learned in my research in peace with a plea to Canadian people to take back democracy and voice their opinions. Free speech is only free speech if we use it! Peace studies is a rising academic discipline. We need to start spending money on peace studies and conflict transformation strategies instead of war and destruction!
For the record– I’m not anti-Canadian. I love Canada, it is my home.  I just disagree with certain political choices that are in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Several Canadian politicians and companies are ruining our international reputation by their actions that detract from our long-standing position as peacekeepers and humanitarians concerned with human rights and freedoms. They are actually even participating in crimes around the world.

Slowly but surely, we have been lessening our international commitment to peacekeeping. We have dropped from being one of the largest troop contributors–way down to 56th in troop contributions behind Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nigeria, Nepal, Jordan, Ghana, Rwanda, Uruguay, Italy, Senegal, China, South Africa, Ethiopia, France, Morocco, Benin, Brazil, Spain, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Indonesia, Poland, Argentina, Turkey, Germany, Malaysia, Philippines, Niger, Zambia, Ukraine, Chile, Tunisia, Bolivia, Austria, Korea, Gambia, Belgium, UK, Portugal, Togo, USA, Slovakia, Russia, Romania, Fiji, Mongolia, Greece, Guatemala, Peru, Cameroon, Qatar, Netherlands and Malawi. This despite the fact that 69% of Canadians surveyed nationally recognize peacekeeping as a strong Canadian value.

In place of peacekeepers worldwide, we now feel it is important to give our military an unlimited budget, following the example of the mighty war machine in the United States. Instead of keeping our value as peacekeepers, we are now making one as war-mongers. What sort of response will this elicit from the world? Surely, it only detracts from our longstanding neutrality and makes us targets.

Canada is guilty of helping to support war crimes in several areas around the world, either through aid projects, inaction or direct policies that support major human rights abusing governments. I will profile the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as an example– there are (unfortunately), MANY more examples of Canada condoning or supporting major human rights violations. The Congo is currently experiencing a MASSIVE human rights disaster, with close to 45,000 people dying per month of war related causes. You read right- that’s 45,000 DYING every month.

At least 10 Canadian mining corporations were implicated for supporting major human rights offenders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the UN’s 2000 “Report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Congo”  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. All of the ten corporations in the report were accused of violating the guidelines of the OECD; some even accused of bribing officials to gain access to land and its containing resources from leaders who were not in possession of said land. That’s right- they were accused of bribing rebel groups who were fighting in the area (who often force the locals to mine as slave labor) to gain control of mines so they can make a profit for themselves. These fighting groups are making up to $20 million a month in profits, often with Canadian assistance, to help continue funding their war.

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.

The Canadian government is guilty for politically supporting major human rights offenders, specifically Joseph Kabila and the RPF, who are guilty of massive crimes against their own people. Our government is guilty of complicity for supporting the implicated mining companies accused of violations, by allowing mining-friendly tax laws 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 war in Afghanistan.

Canadian troops and support are needed in the Congo (and elsewhere) 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, and mostly ignored the broader humanitarian situation. Some of these political and economic governance programs that were supported by our politicians contribute to  Joseph Kabila’s governmental control- securing his place in government and ensuring the crisis continues.

The humanitarian situation in the DRC has been described as “the worst humanitarian crisis ever “. The situation has gotten so bad in recent months 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. 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.

This is not the UN’s fault (necessarily). The UN relies on its Member States for support. If they do not provide troops or funding to properly implement missions– the UN has no legs to stand. Overdue arrears are currently worth more than half the entire peacekeeping budget. The largest arrears account is owed by the United States, who is currently behind in their payments by US$1,288 million (total peacekeeping expenditures for 2005 was $4,737 million). No wonder the UN can’t meet the needs of their missions–they are not being staffed or funded to send a properly trained mission!

Why are we not supporting the Congolese and many other peacekeeping missions with the necessary troop support? — because your government has decided that it would rather spend its money on war.

The only way to stop these crimes is to make your voice heard and write to your government today demanding that they respect the Canadian values of peacekeeping and humanitarianism and stop supporting war and terror!
If you’d like more information on where you can find more resources or suggestions on what to write, or who to write- I’d be happy to discuss.

What are they mining in the Congo? The minerals to make sure we have our electronic equipment and luxuries.
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, among other things.
Our luxuries are fueling this war! Make companies accountable for where their resources come from– demand that they implement processes to ensure this does not continue!

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