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New campaign says 'no blood for gadgets'

This may fall a little far afield from our usual coverage of green IT and environmental business practices, but bear with me: a) this is an interesting and important story, and b) it dovetails with many of the same supply-chain, procurement, and responsible sourcing topics that companies are facing with environmental issues.

In a nutshell, the ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has killed 5.4 million people since it flared up again in 1998, making it the deadliest documented conflict since World War II. As a method of controlling opposition regions and punishing those who don't obey, rape and sexual violence has become unfathomably widespread in the Congo war.

A new prong in an effort by the Enough Project involves striking at one of the key arenas that the armies are fighting for, and a source of funding for those armies: the raw materials for the global electronics industry.

From a new report on the campaign:

Sexual violence in Congo is often fueled by militias and armies warring over “conflict minerals,” the ores that produce tin, tungsten, and tantalum -- the “3 Ts” -- as well as gold. Armed groups from Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda finance themselves through the illicit conflict mineral trade and fight over control of mines and taxation points inside Congo.
• Tin (produced from cassiterite) -- used inside your cell phone and all electronic products as a solder on circuit boards. The biggest use of tin worldwide is in electronic products. Congolese armed groups earn approximately $85 million per year from trade in tin.
• Tantalum (produced from “coltan”) -- used to store electricity in capacitors in iPods, digital cameras, and cell phones. Sixty-five to 80 percent of the world’s tantalum is used in electronic products. Congolese armed groups earn an estimated $8 million per year from trading in tantalum.
• Tungsten (produced from wolframite) -- used to make your cell phone or BlackBerry vibrate. Tungsten is a growing source of income for armed groups in Congo, with armed groups currently earning approximately $2 million annually.
• Gold -- used in jewelry and as a component in electronics. Extremely valuable and easy to smuggle, Congolese armed groups are earning between $44 million to $88 million per year from gold.

In addition to calling for leadership from the White House and Congress, the Enough Project's new campaign aims to pressure electronics manufacturers to verify that none of these raw materials come from Congo, both by enlisting companies to sign a "conflict minerals pledge" as well as urging individuals to pressure companies to sign the pledge.

The Enough Project is funded by the Center for American Progress, a progressive advocacy group and think tank based in Washington. The group is using the electronics campaign as one prong to take on not just this ongoing war, but genocide underway in multiple conflicts around the world.

The group has already sent letters to 21 top electronics companies that are using conflict minerals in their products, and based on the responses, the group will launch campaigns to encourage these companies to take these materials out of their supply chains and allow independent verification of their procurement strategies.

None of the big electronics companies want to fuel the deadliest war in the world. But at a time of financial crisis, when every penny of profit counts, corporations may continue to turn a blind eye toward Congo’s conflict mineral trade. Therefore, we need to use our considerable market muscle to demand evidence from companies such as Apple, Nokia, Hewlett Packard, and Nintendo that their products do not contain conflict minerals. This will require them to change their procurement practices and demand that their suppliers provide proof of where their minerals are sourced from.

The electronics companies are powerful actors in their supply chains. If they show leadership, they can fundamentally change the way these minerals are bought and sold, ensuring that the minerals don’t contribute to armed conflict and the continuation of the worst violence against women and girls in the world. As consumers, we can compel them to exercise that leadership.

These types of supply chain accountability issues are increasingly relevant to companies for any number of reasons, whether it's ensuring fair labor practices, tracking food supply chains for food-safety, getting a clear picture of a company's overall carbon footprint, or evaluating their risks from climate change. With complex, global supply chains increasingly common, these types of calls for transparency and strict supply-chain management are only likely to increase.

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