The DC-based advocacy group Enough! Project is calling on consumers to raise awareness around the fact that their beloved electronics contain the “3Ts (tin, tungsten, and tantalum) as well as gold, all rare earth minerals that are illegally mined in the Congo, where profits go to “armed groups…that regularly commit conscious-shocking atrocities as they jockey to control the region’s most valuable mines. A worthy cause? Of course. One only has to watch videos such as this to realize how heartbreaking and dire the situation is. But the Enough! Project’s public face and actions are quite different from what their actual research report promotes, and our question is: what’s the real message here?
When I first read Nicholas Kristof’s article in the New York Times entitled “Death By Gadget, I have to admit that I was skeptical. While I in absolutely no way wish to diminish the horrendous situation in the Congo surrounding the mining and exportation of conflict minerals, I do feel that some members of our society have a tendency to jump onto a bandwagon or latch onto a cause for the sake of having an opinion rather than actually caring about or fully researching the issue in question. Taking this into consideration, look at this video [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEEDvgcXPyw,[/youtube]
where this side of Enough! Project is prevalent. Forgive the stereotype, but this video to me represents a bunch of “hippie-dippie kids who are working their first job out of college in DC and acting as conduits for a garbled message — largely blowing hot air to a crowd that vaguely listens, but isn’t dissuaded into boycotting Apple products, which is the apparently the call to action by the protesters. These kids seem to have no real knowledge or insight about the corporations on the other side, how deeply their supply chains would be affected by a flat-out boycott, and how exceedingly difficult it would be to re-source their entire metals base. In their favor, they do mention the fact that companies such as Apple and Intel do simply tell us, their consumers, that they trust the word of their suppliers in saying that these metals are conflict free, but provide no physical proof. And proof is what is being called for.
Curious for more information, I went to Enough!’s site to read up on what their actual mission is, found the report “A Comprehensive Approach to Congo’s Conflict Minerals and…it’s completely comprehensive. It provides a thorough and succinct history of the problem, including past efforts that have failed or are still (albeit weakly) in process. It emphasizes a necessary unity among “government, businessmen, and civil society, saying that we must “work together to forge the political will to legitimize Congo’s mineral wealth.
Specifically important, however, is that they do call out the difficulty that comes with mitigating this problem. The action they call for in terms of transparency in the supply chain is as follows: “The ability of end users to trace and audit the supply chains for the metal components in their electronics products is a critical step to channeling international demand away from armed groups toward legitimate sources, and they quip that “there is no silver bullet solution to Congo’s conflict minerals and “the reform of Congolese institutions is a long-term goal. Most importantly, the report says, “consumers and activists need to demand independently verifiable supply chain audits to ensure that products are indeed conflict free. This should not be a boycott of Congolese minerals, but rather more stringent requirements for purchasing of minerals so that consumers can be credibly assured that armed forces groups are not benefiting from illicit activity or the subjugation of local populations. And that seems fair.
So where does this leave us, the consumer? Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of a report like this is the number of offshoot methods of support it receives. From a spoof of the Mac/PC commercials [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ycih_jMObQ&feature=player_embedded[/youtube](surprise! They BOTH contain conflict minerals!) to the more extreme “The Scary Truth About Your iPhone the issue is definitely making the rounds. Yet like a game of telephone, each new advocacy group that picks up on this reporting distorts the message more and more, until we’re left with a “cause that comes across as more trendy than valid. I suppose here at MetalMiner we believe that in terms of both conflict minerals and advocacy issues alike, to get the message right, and to really take a stand against a problem, you have to gather all of the facts trace it back to the source. The Enough! Project has the right idea and even provides a clear path to a good solution…now they just need the right advocates.
— Sheena Moore