On Conflict Minerals

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The ongoing plight for Champlain College to integrate a conflict-free resolution has inspired me to reach out the larger Burlington community for conflict mineral divestment. After meeting resistance from the administration, I have realized that engaging with other local stakeholders may be a more effective outlet for collective action. This is the fifth consecutive year that students have tabled to raise awareness about the conflict mineral issue, screened educational films, held solidarity events and appealed to our Student Government Association (SGA) to prevent our institutions funding into this insidious issue.

Thankfully, there are other Environmental Policy students who are committed to seeing that the conflict-free resolution we wrote will be passed at Champlain College. My reverence for this beautiful city and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has encouraged me to create the #ConflictFreeSociety movement. This netroots platform was birthed after learning about the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative’s approach to creating peace in the DRC. This local 501c3 nonprofit organization is based in Burlington, but sends resources to the eastern region of the DRC, an area where many of the minerals used in our electronic devices are being extracted from.

Tin, tungsten, coltan and gold are the main minerals that are referred to as “conflict minerals” due to the abuse from militant groups who seek to maintain control over this lucrative trade. Gender-based sexual violence, child slavery and other human rights abuses are connected to our beloved electronic devices (cell phones, computers, GPS systems, film equipment, game consoles, watches, jewelry, etc.) that have been manufactured from a majority of these minerals.

In efforts to hold companies accountable for cleaning up their supply chains, the Enough Project has created the Conflict Free Campus Initiative which is primarily advocated for by Student Upstanders. Institutions are a perfect place for conflict-free campaigns, but they also have programs for Frontline, Citizen and Celebrity Upstanders so that a wide variety of consumers have a platform to get involved with the conflict-free movement. The Enough Project also ensures that mining includes safe mine sustainability standards to continue improving the conflict-free mineral trade. They are doing great work, so we must collectively #DemandTheSupply for conflict-free minerals to nudge more companies to divest in the Congolese genocide and ecocide. Fortunately, there are many ways to take compassionate actions to help grow this consumer led movement.

Ibutwa is a word that in Lega, a dialect spoken by the Lega tribe, translates to “renaissance.” I strongly support this nonprofit’s core value of renewal, especially in consideration to how a sense of rebirth is necessary when healing sexual violence on local and global levels. Sexual violence is a deeply embedded issue that has been continuously happening throughout history. Expressing creativity in honor of the renaissance that ibutwa has inspired in the U.S. has been a form of art therapy for myself and countless others. The #MeToo movement has opened eyes around the world, helping people realize how much of a problem rape culture still is today, even in American society.

It is painfully ironic that the phones and computers which people are using to empower themselves through their brave decisions to publicly announce their experiences with sexual violence are devices that have been a huge contributing factor to the DRC becoming the “rape capital of the world”. As users of electronics, this issue is literally in all of our hands. Although going to college in Vermont is incomparable to the educational experiences that individuals may have in the DRC, sexual violence is also a problem on our campus and throughout this city. Gender inequality is not contained by borders.

Considering this, consent has been a major topic that students at Champlain have been bringing into the conversation while advocating for conflict-free minerals. Courageous consumers who have taken it upon themselves to raise awareness about the global market failure that is referred to as “conflict minerals” realize how many facets of the economy are absolutely inadequate. Sustainable resource extraction is rarely practiced. This age of technology has contributed to the ongoing genocide in the DRC (which news outlets seldom pay respect to) and is a shameful example of systemic racism. Even solar panels, wonderful alternatives to supporting fossil fuels, are often made with conflict minerals. I find myself questioning—what is actually sustainable?

As I continuously ponder wicked problems such as gender-based sexual violence and corporate crime, I have realized that the least I can do with this awareness is share it. I hope that by shining light on such a triggering topic, more people will feel compelled to join this grassroots movement that is demanding the supply of conflict free minerals. Through the efforts I organize, I truly hope that more citizens wake up to realize how closely we as a global community are all connected. Our purchasing matters. Our voices matter. Black Lives Matter.

My final question goes to you, dear reader through the screen—will you contribute your skills to help mitigate violence against women in the DRC? If an answer reveals itself, please reach out! Standing in solidarity with the Congo can also be an endeavor that strengthens community bonds in your local area. I am searching for like-minded individuals to help grow the #ConflictFreeSociety platform and would be honored to hear any ideas you have that may uplift others.

With love and gratitude,

Lily Mason (lily.mason@mymail.champlain.edu)

#RebirthConnection #GrowGardensNotGuns #ItsInOurHands

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