Lifestyle Spotlight: Ohio University Acknowledges Link to Conflict Minerals
By Mayuri Mei Lin, CG News
August 27th was a day of victory for Bobcats for a Conflict-Free Campus, a sub-group of the national organization STAND Against Genocide when Ohio University became the 12th U.S. school to pledge towards giving preference to conflict-free resources.
OU released a statement acknowledging their involvement and urging the electronics industries’ producers to avoid resources from the terrorist-controlled mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
After two years of intense campaigning, Bobcats for a Conflict-Free Campus saw OU finally agreeing to reassess their stand and give preferential treatment to conflict-free resources from Congo.
Following this, President Roderick J. McDavis appointed an Ad Hoc Committee on Socially Responsible Practices to examine the problems linked to minerals illegally sourced from Congo.
“The conflict that is going on in Congo is a long, long, long one,” said Dr. Edna Wangui, an Assistant Professor at Ohio University’s Geology Department. Dr. Wangui’s research interests are in the fields of gender, rural livelihoods and landscape change in East Africa.
“The Democratic Republic of Congo has what is referred to as ‘Strategic Minerals’ whereby they are really necessary in key industries like aerospace and technology,” Dr. Wangui said. “The whole digital age really changed the needs we have for these resources.”
Dr. Wangui goes on to explain that the fact that these minerals are only available in minute locations, most of which is located in Congo, but are in high demand is what makes these minerals so strategic. The minerals that are so sought after are tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold. These minerals are crucial in the production of cellphones, laptops, portable music players and gaming systems.
The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is partly due to the fact that the government has little control over the country. Dr. Wangui states that right now, the government only has control of approximately one-third of the nation. The rest of the country is being run by rebel groups.
“The rebels are the defector government,” said Dr. Wangui.
On top of that, Dr. Wangui also addresses the environmental impacts mining for these minerals have. She says that to gain access to these minerals, miners would sometimes have to remove entire hillsides and remove natural vegetation.
“What’s unique about the DRC is that the mining happens at the same time that you don’t have a strong state control,” Dr. Wangui said. “What happens is, when you have a protected area or a national park, (the miners) just go in and mine.”
Dr. Wangui says that several national parks, which have been established as a protected area due to high biodiversity, have already been mined by these rebel groups. Seeing how the DRC has many different biomes, this will inadvertently affect the rest of the world.
Raise Hope for Congo is among many other organizations that work towards ending the blatant human rights violations and perpetual war in Congo. Their efforts, which include the Congo Faith Initiative and the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, are geared towards getting the world to realize how electronics are fueling the war in Congo and then to work towards stopping the violence that stems from it. Their efforts have resulted in technology giants like Intel, Hewlet Packett and Philips to audit their supply chains and even start helping Congo develop a clean trade.
Beyond that, Raise Hope for Congo is working towards getting Congolese resources certification, much like the Fair Trade certification given to coffee.
“A legitimate certification system must function as a shared ownership partnership between governments, the private sector and civil society,” said the Raise Hope for Congo website.
Dr. Wangui says that economic pressure and political sanctions will have an effect on the issue.
“The threat of losing profit can motivate the industry to clean up. It is a useful step,” said Dr. Wangui.
Dr. Wangui says that she is really happy that it’s gotten to the point where people are starting to think of where these minerals come from. However, she says that even with the best intentions, it is very difficult to ensure that these minerals are conflict free. She adds that the minerals “change hands many times” thus making the supply chain very long and difficult to monitor.
“However, this is a step in the right direction,” Dr. Wangui said.
In regards to STAND’s initiatives, Dr. Wangui said that this is a useful step.
“In as much as when you really think about the grand scheme of things, it appears really little and futile almost, but it’s not because it is a useful first step,” Dr. Wangui said. “It’s a step that needs to be taken.”
She adds that this alone will not work and that many other measures need to be taken in order to stop the usage of conflict minerals but it is still useful nonetheless.