BY MARIA SAUER
Home to the deadliest conflict since World War II, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is notorious for human rights violations, including violence against women and the use of child soldiers. Having claimed more than five million lives, the conflict in eastern Congo is fueled by the wealth of the country’s natural resources. The DRC is home to rich mineral wealth in tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. Yet, according to the United Nations, this country is the world’s poorest country per capita. This is partly because of the instability of the country but also because of the corruption that goes on within Congo’s mines. Armed groups maintain control in the mines through exploitation, attacks on villages and the use of sexual violence. The more power that these armed groups strategically exercise over the country, the more their control expands.
While the conflict of a country 7,000 miles away is complex, we are connected to it. The minerals that are mined in the DRC are the same minerals that are used in everyday products such as cellphones, laptops and televisions. These minerals are smuggled out of the DRC, smelted in countries around the world and used in the manufacturing of consumer products sold in the United States. Connected to the conflict, we are a part of the problem. Since we play a role in the problem that is fueling the ongoing conflict, we are able to play a role in the solution of the conflict in Congo.
The Conflict-Free Campus Initiative is an initiative through the Enough Project’s Raise Hope for Congo. Driven to find sustainable solutions to the conflict, the Enough Project has created an initiative that uses the voice of students and campuses around the country to pressure electronic companies to make their supply chains conflict-free, that is, free of minerals mined by armed groups. The Enough Project ranked companies in a Consumer Electronic Rankings based on the conflict minerals in their products, steps that are being taken to clean up their chain and actions taken toward becoming conflict-free from Congo. Based on the Consumer Electronic Rankings, Intel ranks the highest in taking steps towards becoming conflict-free while Nikon ranks among the lowest as not taking steps to clean up their chain. These rankings were conducted in 2012 and companies have since shown progress in becoming conflict-free as colleges have used their consumer power to demand products conflict-free from Congo.
Knights Against Trafficking, an organization on campus centered on education about trafficking, is currently taking steps to make our campus conflict-free from Congo. The first step in doing this is by raising awareness about the issue. Members from Knights Against Trafficking are raising awareness on our college through meeting with campus organizations, sharing information about the conflict and initiative and encouraging organizations to support the initiative. Passing a conflict-free resolution does not mean that our campus will need to dispose of any electronics that rank low on the Consumer Electronic Rankings but rather that our campus administrators will make purchases with this information in mind going forward. Our campus has not begun the process of creating a resolution, but members of Knights Against Trafficking have begun to seek the support of organizations, as well as a commitment to continue growing in understanding of the conflict and initiative. In taking part in the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, our campus will join schools like UW Madison, UW Eau Claire, Northwestern University, Yale University and Boston College in the project.
Colleges have the ability to raise a powerful voice. I encourage you to support an initiative that seeks peace and longstanding solutions to a deadly conflict. Raise Hope for Congo made the statement that, “There are solutions, and where there is hope there can be peace.” Our campus, small but mighty, has the ability to raise a powerful voice.