Amplifying Voices

Conflict Free Duke
by Emily Myron -- April 10th, 2012

Watching Duke students, faculty, and staff rally together to affect change made me proud to be a part of the Duke community.
For those of you who know me, you know I use an old, beaten up cell phone. This is why – several years ago, John Prendergast spoke at my undergrad, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and, since then, I have cared about conflict minerals. I have tried to make informed decisions, and replace electronics only when I needed to, not just when I wanted to. Recently, I learned that the Duke Community is also engaged in this issue.

Wednesday, April 4 was a momentous day at Duke. It was the first time in the last five years that the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility held an open session based on the work of the Coalition for a Conflict Free Duke. The last meeting of the Committee occurred in response to sweatshop workers creating the clothes sold in the bookstore (resulting in all the bookshop clothes coming from reputable sources). The new hubbub is about “conflict minerals.”

For those of you who have never heard of conflict minerals, they are found in your cell phones, laptops, cans of soup, chairs, and more. They are tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold. Why does this matter? Because the money from the sales of those minerals help to fuel the war in Eastern Congo – said to be the worst war since World War II (more information available here and a great BBC synopsis here). While it continues to be debated how much of the rebels’ revenue comes from the minerals, and how demanding a transparent supply chain for these minerals will affect the other, legal mines in the Congo, it is clear that Western consumption is helping to fuel this war.

Coalition for a Conflict Free Duke implores that Duke become the second school in the nation to amend the University’s investment strategy. Essentially, Duke will ask companies for information on their supply chain (through the Dodd-Frank Act) in hopes this will pressure big electronic companies to trace where their minerals are coming from.

There is no doubt that the war in the Congo is a huge violation of human rights, with over 5.4 million killed since 1996 and inconceivable acts of rape and sexual violence occurring daily. Not only is this a human rights issue, but it is also a conservation issue, as the conflict area overlaps with the second largest tropical forest in the world. This has overarching effects on the many species that reside there, such as the gorilla. Already, 190 park rangers have been killed trying to defend gorillas and their forests. This is only one example of a species that may have a bleak future if conflict continues. According to UNEP, the National Parks in the conflict region have lost 80% of their large mammals. This is an issue we, as conservationists, should be engaged in, as well.

All of these issues, and more, were raised at the open forum. Not only was the room full, but it was full of undergraduates and graduates from every school, men and women, students and faculty. On top of the many facts presented, there were also truly moving stories from those who do research in the Congo, as well as a brave woman who survived the conflict, who spoke from the heart about these atrocities. I have still not heard the Advisory Committee’s decision, but I would hope that Duke would put as much effort and research into doing something responsible about this issue as it does retrofitting toilets with duel flushes, replacing light bulbs, and getting reusable to-go containers. Regardless of the outcome, I have never felt so proud to be a Dukie.

If this is something you are concerned about, you can sign Conflict Free Duke’s petition here. Please try to make responsible decisions – this is one of the world’s many problems that we, as concerned individuals, may actually be able to do something about. It wont be easy to tease the origins of these metals out of the supply chain, but in an age in which we have atomic weapons, the internet, and CGI, I believe it is possible and that the people of Congo deserve a brighter future.

1 Comment

  1. Sue
    Apr 13, 2012

    Thanks for writing this and making us all think, Emily. I will go sign the petition now.

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