my quest for a conflict free laptop

What to do about blood minerals in the DR Congo.

I  may have spoken too hastily in the past regarding conflict resources in the DR Congo. My rage at the inherent abuse led me to think that boycotting and protesting companies was perhaps the best way to go. I realize now, that I was wrong. Starting with the last steps in the chain is the wrong approach to this problem.

Over the past six years, I have delved into this subject more than any other and have even gone so far as to ban all products for my personal use if I didn’t know EXACTLY where they came from and what effect they had. I still feel comfortable with this personal decision. I have become essentially a non-consumer (except for second hand goods) and I like it that way because I cannot fathom my personal choices causing pain in others and could not live with myself and my luxuries at that expense. As such, I’ve taken to growing almost all of my own food, having friends make me new clothes from reclaimed fabric or hitting the second hand shop and living a pretty austere life away from any new fangled gadgets. I have been mocked by other friends who suggest I now live in the stone age (not quite, I still have many older modern conveniences such as my laptop that I’ve had for the past 8 years– she runs just fine!). Frankly, that doesn’t bother me. I enjoy being connected to what I produce and what I consume. It makes me feel whole, but it’s definitely not a plausible life choice for everyone.

Over the past several months, it has become blatantly clear to me that boycotts will not improve the situation for those in the DR Congo, in fact, it will only make things worse for the people on the ground. Nor will creating a certification-scheme for “fair trade” products to help ban all blood minerals and metals. Lobbying governments or companies will create further awareness on the issue, perhaps bringing much needed funding for Congolese humanitarian projects, but it won’t make the lives of the people any better and it won’t stop conflict resources from flooding the market.

It’s hard for me to admit this, especially since I have so vehemently proposed such things in the past and now feel stupid for doing so. I ask myself, how did I not come to this conclusion earlier? The evidence was all there, I was reading it daily, but these conclusions made me feel helpless. Boycotting and calling the governments and companies to change made me more able to do something about the problem. Again, I feel helpless and feel like I am starting from scratch.

So what can people in North America do?

I still advocate that people should be aware of what they are purchasing. They should know that when they buy luxuries, they are affecting more than just their pocketbook. They should not over-consume, and skyrocket demand for mining and resource extraction that may cause environmental degradation, abuse or suffering. But what can they do directly about the problem?

In a country where corruption is king, and violence rampant– certification schemes are going to be corrupted. One only has to look to the Kimberley Process and the recent problems in Zimbabwe to realize that certifications schemes are not all they are cracked up to be. Until corruption and governance can be stabilized, a certification scheme is out of the question. So should we just ban all such resources from the areas of fighting in the DRC?

Criminalizing imports in an area where the majority of the population is reliant on revenues from mineral exports means that the local economy would experience rapid devaluation of their currency, suddenly making their basic needs completely unaffordable. It will also push illegal trade much further underground, making it much harder to track and people will still be subject to abuse for the sake of minerals. These minerals will still end up in our market, only they will have gotten there through much shadier means.

The new Bill C-300 on the table in Canada will open channels for victims of human rights abuses at the hands of Canadian corporations acting overseas and in theory allow them to have more access to justice. The bill would allow guilty companies to be sanctioned, their support withdrawn from Export Development Canada (EDC), as well as any investment by the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) in their company shares. In practice, however, given the high risk nature and generally small size of extractive companies, they do not generally even receive EDC funding or CPP investment. Mining companies could feel the sanctions, but as the bill is a private member’s bill, it will not likely be receiving the financial resources it needs to adequately make this function-able in the first place. Not to mention that the average person living in the DRC would probably not even be aware of the existence of said bill to even begin to file a complaint. In its current form, the Bill is clearly problematic and will have little effect on the well-being of the affected population.

The American Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 is meant to push companies to report on any minerals used in their products coming from conflict areas and describe the steps they took to ensure the minerals procurement did not support arms groups. All information would be public for citizens so that they could make their purchasing choices accordingly. This will result in essentially boycotting minerals from the DRC since the cost to the companies will increase with their use and people will avoid buying from companies who use potentially conflict-laden materials. Boycotts, as mentioned above, will have devastating effects for the population. The Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009 also amounts to a boycott.

Ok. Ok. Enough with the bad stuff, what will work?

It’s not that simple. What the DRC needs more than anything is good governance and security. “Without a Congolese state capable of playing its role in controlling and running affairs, how can the minerals of Kivu be de-criminalized?”

Since MONUC, the UN peacekeeping troop in the DRC,  has recently decided to scale back its mandate and reduce its troops by 2,000 to change itself into MONUSCO, the possibility of good governance in the country looks bleak. The latest UN resolution calls on MONUSCO to “support” and act “upon explicit request” from the Congolese government (one of the major human rights abusers in the country, including within the mineral trade), a move that offers no explicit details on how MONUSCO is supposed to support them or deal with abusive officers or improve the behaviour of the forces. The resolution also limits the mandate of civilian protection to only areas where peacekeepers are stationed, clawing back existing assistance. The former head of MONUC has also just retired to be replaced with the surprise choice of Alan Doss, a man with no previous UN experience, potentially leaving the already troublesome command structure weakened.

What can we do about this? Well, the UN already has the largest peacekeeping force in its history in the country, but it would take thousands more troops to really provide some semblance of stability and that is just not likely to happen.

We can petition our governments to push for greater UN presence in the country, to increase their spending to aid these endeavors and increase their arms sanctions or actually enforce them. We can push the UN to increase its mandate so it can try to actually secure unstable territory. We can push them to be more engaged with the local populations and look at ways to more effectively communicate with them (such as hiring more translators or setting up remote radio communication systems). We can push the UN to work on good governance programs, ensure active functioning justice systems, continue its Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program and thoroughly train the police or in areas where there are no police, do the job of policing to ensure security. We can also push them to rethink their approach and adopt differing strategies that would allow them to better address the realities on the ground  (Séverine Autesserre has some good suggestions)  We can push the UN to hunt down and contain the rebel movements who are destabilizing the country. We can push the international community to actually listen to local solutions and help implement them. We can push our own governments to demand accountability for the billions of dollars they give to the Congolese government each year. We can push for any of our extraction companies in the DRC who are directly committing crimes in the country to be brought to justice and actually investigate all claims made by UN and other reports that implicate any companies in criminal actions within the country. We can push the media to actually show the severity of the conflict to help increase international aid and monitor the progress and to focus more on local solutions and initiatives to the problems. We can inform people of what is happening and encourage them to push their governments and the UN as well.

And we can hope that the world will listen and respond. With enough pressure, anything is possible.

** Update: I received a thoughtful email from Laura at Texas in Africa with some great suggestions who agrees with the idea that “getting a functioning security sector, police who can and will do their jobs, collecting taxes so that salaries can be paid, and getting the judiciary working again” are a top priority.

She stated, “I’ve found that the best thing for me to do in terms of formulating a response is to support organizations that I think are doing a good job, and to encourage others to do the same.  If you’re concerned about women who are victims of rape in the region, Heal Africa, Panzi Hospital, and Women for Women all do a wonderful job of helping them to return to health and rebuild their lives.  The IRC, Doctors without Borders, and Oxfam also do good work, especially in the education and health sectors.  Supporting  NGO work doesn’t solve the bigger issues, but it does help me to feel like I’m making a small difference, even as I work to figure out these issues and educate others about them.”

She also suggested reading over Resource Consulting Services Ltd. ‘s work for ideas on how to legalize and formalize the mineral trade in the DRC. Thanks Laura for your helpful suggestions!

 

Blood-free tin.

The ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative (iTSCi) is making an effort to try and eradicate conflict metals from the tin industry. The extraction of raw materials in many parts of the world funds extreme acts of violence; war crimes, crimes against humanity, mass murder, rape, torture, enslavement, the recruitment of child soldiers, mass abuse and displacement of people.  The complexity of manufacturing modern products means that each item has most likely traveled around the globe making many stops along the way.  This makes it harder for companies to know exactly what happened at each stop and the effect their product has had on human beings along the way.

ITRI is a non-profit organization that represents tin miners and smelters, created to promote a positive image of the tin industry and ensure its best interests are represented. The ITSCi was designed to investigate the performance of the tin industry and ensure a higher standard of care that would trace the tin from the mine to the smelter, much like the Kimberly Process does for diamonds.

July 2009 saw the implementation of ITSCi Phase 1, a comprehensive due diligence plan for tin extracted in the DR Congo. Phase 2 which just began to begin to track and provide more precise sourcing locations for tin mined in eastern DRC. Pilot mines sites in North and South Kivu have been chosen to integrate into the trading scheme, with expectations of expansion after the first six months across 4 provinces of the DRC (North and South Kivu, Maniema, and Katanga). It’s a start, but nearly not enough to ensure the eradication of conflict tin in the marketplace.

This pilot supply chain project is being eyed by both the Tantalum and Niobuim Information Center (TIC) who eventually intend to include coltan in the study. Hopefully other extractive industries will soon follow and begin take their own initiatives to stop funding violence. The vagueness within the corporate policies and laws and lack of investigation and enforcement capabilities to regulate the laws, leave the extractive industries seemingly decades away from evoking true change in practices. Long-term secure funding and precise laws is necessary to ensure this project goes from pilot to change in real practice. Currently several major corporations are contributing the $600K necessary to run the ITSCi pilot. Considering the profit made from products using tin in the past year, this $600K is merely a drop in the bucket. More money is immediately needed from these companies to hire enough investigators, regulators and enforcers to stop funding violence.

You can help stop the violence. Speak out. The next time you buy a product, think about where it has come from. Write, phone, email and ask the company if they have a truly ethical purchasing policy that includes safeguards against incorporating conflict resources into their product line. Ask your government to enact laws that would enforce its companies to maintain higher human rights standards, even when operating overseas. The market creates the demand, so let’s demand that they provide us with a truly ethical choice.

Bookmark      and Share

HP is trying.

It’s been almost two years that I have been pushing different computer companies to better track their supply chains in an effort to stop the flow of money into conflict zones. My pleas have mostly fallen on deaf ears.

While I can’t entirely endorse any of the companies’ efforts, since I feel they still fall short of being fully responsible, I feel that Hewlett Packard (HP) is at least trying to change and is the closest to actually doing so. My general feeling on these companies is that they should have full control over their supply line, know whether any stops along the way are human rights abusing and stop the abuse if it is found if they truly want to consider themselves an “ethical” company. If they find abuse, they can choose to ask that supplier to stop the abuse or they have the choice to switch to another supplier. Either way, they have control over this aspect. If the supplier won’t let them in to inspect for abuse, then switch supplier. Simple. It’s fairly black and white with me when it comes to this. We, as consumers, don’t have this choice to the same extent. We don’t know who supplies which company without thorough research, and have a difficult time trying to ascertain the truth from the companies even with thorough research. They say, buyer beware, but when we see “ethical” policies on their website, we assume that it’s the truth. Sadly, in most cases I have found, it is not anywhere near the truth.

Hewlett Packard has started auditing its supply chain and making as much information on those audits available as possible. They have listed the majority of their suppliers in an effort to be more transparent. They have made voluntary promises to investigate their supply chain more closely. They claim to unconditionally support human rights on their web site. They have donated money and equipment to the ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative in an effort to track the tin for their products in the DR Congo. They have also voluntarily joined on to the GeSI Supply Chain Initiative. These efforts haven’t gone completely unnoticed. HP was named #1 Best Corporate Citizen by Corporate Responsibility Magazine. It has been written up repeatedly as an “ethical” company.

The reality though, is still kind of sad. The ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative received only $600,000 for the first six months of its supply chain project. Seems like a lot of money, right? While, before you start applauding these companies for this donation, you must realize that HP, Analog Devices, Apple, Cabot Supermetals, Dell, EMC, IBM, Intel, Lenovo, Motorola Foundation, Nokia, Philips, RIM, Sony, Talison, Telefonica, S.A. Western Digital and Xerox collaboratively donated this money and that within that list sit several companies who are making millions upon millions each year on these tainted supplies while already claiming corporate social responsibility.  The $600K donation works out to less than $40K per company for this initiative. Consider that a company like HP spends approximately $235 million per month on research and development of new products, you think they could invest a little more in ensuring human rights are respected in the making of their supposedly “ethical” product line. And before you commend them on reaching the top of Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s “Best Corporate Citizens”, realize that the Coca Cola Co. (accused of massive worldwide crimes, see also here) also tops the list for responsibility.

What it appears like to me is companies using bottom line donations to promote their image, while ignoring a larger problem in an effort to maximize their own profits. Profits should not come before people. You want to be ethical in your product line? Here’s a plan for you. Spend the money, send out auditors to each of your suppliers and their suppliers and their suppliers. Keep them there for (at least) the next year and have them report on each and every violation against human rights. If these violations start to add up, move to another supplier who can agree to your terms. I’m sure there are many other suppliers waiting in the wings wishing on contracts with a massive corporation that would be willing to take some more responsible measures to secure that contract. This is a simplification, obviously it would be slightly more complicated, but there is as far as I can see no real reason they can’t take full responsibility except for monetary and competition reasons, and frankly, that’s just not good enough. War crimes and crimes against humanity are happening for these products, and that’s not ok.

It makes no sense me to that these companies claim they are unable to control their own product line. They have the control. They just don’t want to lose profits because they do not see the competitive advantage in paying more for human rights protection. A few moments in the media of shining glory after some piddly donation has a similar effect as an actual effort. So why put the effort and money in?

Please HP, live up to your ethical promises. Keep the effort coming, and keep transparent. I want to respect you.

Bookmark   and Share

The DR Congo, MONUC and Joseph Kabila.

MONUC, the UN’s mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) will sadly soon be coming near an end, even though the country is arguably home to one of the most deadly and violent humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen. In December 2oo9, the UN extended their mission to run until May 2010 and have spent this time discussing plans for withdrawal. Recent talks suggest the troops will most likely stay past Congolese president Joseph Kabila’s hopeful June 30, 2010 deadline until the least devastating exit strategy can be fully devised. This will probably delay a full withdrawal until at least 2011.  The UN troop’s effectiveness and the necessity of their continuation in the country has been hotly debated. Congolese President Joseph Kabila calls for their immediate departure. Human Rights Watch has accused MONUC of complicity in massive abuses against the local population. Locals protest the UN headquarters, tell rumors of lizard-eating UN troops, and the abandonment of many bastard children parented by MONUC workers should they pull out of the country. Yet there is an obvious necessity for some stability as the local population is in desperate need of protection from wide-spread violence and an incredibly corrupt government system.

President Kabila has been asking the troops to leave now for years, claiming things are getting better and that the government can manage on their own, however the poor human rights record in the DRC would suggest otherwise. The atrocities happening in the DRC rival any crisis and brutality our planet has ever seen, yet seems hidden in the media behind violence in Afghanistan, Iraq or the Sudan. The DRC has been wracked with war for more than a decade, pushed to the brink after colonial independence, decades of poor despotic governance, enormous global theft of resources, and the violent militias fueled by ethnic hatreds spilling into the country following the Rwandan genocide. It is still enraged in severe violence with as many as 45,000 people dying each month from war or war related causes.  The violence has not diminished over these last few years. In fact, if anything, it seems to be increasing. According to OSCHA (the UN office for the coordination of Humanitarian affairs), violent incidents against aid workers increased 26% in the first six months of 2009 compared to 2008. They also report that security incidents in Goma were up 44% and up 63% in North Kivu over the past year. People are still dying at alarming rates, with mass violent atrocities regular, daily occurrences. One would be hard-pressed to find a person who hasn’t been personally affected by violence in the country. Yet, it seems to drop from our view here in North America so easily.

The UN mission in the Congo is the largest and most expensive in history with now more than 20,000 personnel on the ground. 150 UN personnel have lost their lives since the mission’s inception in 1999.   These troops have been accused of atrocities ranging from rape and murder, to assisting local militias and rebel groups in their massacres and have faced protests at the UN doorstep in extreme anger and frustration by local populations who feel they are not being fully protected. We cannot forget that despite all this negativity these troops have also been credited with protecting thousands of local Congolese on a daily basis who would surely die if not for their presence and assistance; they have also had their hands essentially tied by vague mandate and lack of funding. Millions and millions of locals have died (at least 5.6 million in the past decade and probably much more than that), millions more have been displaced, many tens of thousands have been raped (if not more) and these atrocities still continue daily in the most brutal fashion. More than half of the remaining 55 million people in the country are children who are vulnerable to recruitment into fighting factions, are subject to a lack of access to education, malnutrition, or other major human rights abuses, which makes long-term peace increasingly difficult. If these children grow up in constant violence and war, how can they ever know peace?

The peacekeepers’ are under a Chapter VII mandate which allows them to take “necessary action, in the areas of deployment of its infantry battalions and as it deems it within its capabilities, to protect United Nations and co-located JMC personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, ensure the security and freedom of movement of its personnel, and protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.” Their role on paper is essentially to provide stability, security and protection in the country while monitoring human rights abuses and assisting in disarmament, demobilization, resettlement and reintegration of rebel troops. The mission is clearly flawed as violence keeps increasing around them. By supporting the Congolese government, the UN peacekeepers are routinely found being complicit in operations that could be construed as war crimes. Peacekeeping is not enough for this mission. The corrupt government, police and army systems meant to protect are often accused of raid, rape, abuse and murder and the communities propagandized to continual vengeance by rumors that separate and demonize entire ethnic populations. Peacemaking, peacebuilding and regulation of government systems are a necessity on top of the peacekeeping force if any semblance of peace within the country is to be established.

President Joseph Kabila has been a controversial leader of the DRC since 2001. Taking control after his father’s assassination, he was elected as president three years later. His history (including even his age) is highly debated and the subject of great rumor. His lineage and parentage are also debated. Many local rumors claim he is the son of a Rwandan who was adopted by Laurent Kabila after his marriage to Joseph’s mother (Laurent was said to have as many as 13 wives and more than 25 children). There are also many claims of Joseph’s relation to and alliance to Rwandan forces, as he is feared as a puppet of Rwandan President Paul Kagame with an eventual plan to occupy and annex the eastern Kivu provinces from the Congo. Joseph spent many years of his life in neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda, making his life even more of a mystery to many Congolese citizens. He was commonly known as the commander of the famous army of kadogos (child soldiers) in his father’s campaign to oust the Mobutu regime. Kabila is also said to have studied at the Makerere University in Uganda and the PLA National Defense University in China. He had to change the Congolese constitution in 2006, lowering the eligibility age for elections from 35 to 30 so that he could himself run for office legally. His government troops have been accused of mass atrocities and continuing violence that seem to go unpunished. Despite this violence and lack of accountability, his government continues to receive extensive funding and assistance from many foreign sources.

The IMF has loaned over $502 million to the government of the Congo, requiring with it a roll-back of government services that have had some devastating effects. The World Bank and many other agencies continually supply the Congolese government with financial assistance, despite claims of massive human rights abuses by governmental parties. The DRC currently owes billions in debt from Mobutu’s dictatorial period with interest payments consuming more than 10% of the government budget each year, although talks are currently underway to try to reduce this debt. CIDA, Canada’s international development agency funnels over $30 million per year to “political and economic governance” programs with little accountability and transparency of where this funding actually goes. Natural resource wealth is the prime fuel for much of the violence including that earned from uranium, cobalt, coltan, gold, copper, tin, zinc, diamonds, and tantalite often found in many electronics products or packaging for products such as cans. Rebel and government groups battle it out for control of resources; a single mine able to provide them with upwards of $20 million per month in profit, enough to fund more weapons, power and control. The Chinese, Belgians, French, Canadians and Americans (among others) all have a vested monetary interest in the country and often take the opportunity to politically maneuver the government for their own interests.

Refugees returning to the Kivus are adding to the tensions as local politicians and rumor say the returnees are not Congolese Tutsi but rather Rwandans who have never even lived in the Congo. They are accused of throwing locals off their land, fueling further ethnic tensions and hatred in the region. Armed militias for several different ethnic groups who claim to “provide protection” for local and refugees populations are themselves accused of mass rape, murder, forced recruitment of soldiers (including child soldiers), and using slaves to illegally exploit minerals. There is little place to really turn for protection. The intense violence has caused dwindling humanitarian services (see also here, here, here, and here) that will surely diminish even further if the UN does withdrawal.

Something must be done to stop this violence. Proper oversight of natural resources is an absolute necessity combined with awareness in consuming nations to pressure the change within North American, Chinese and European consumption and lending habits. UN withdrawal will only bring more devastation, murder and abuse to the civilian population and must be avoided at all costs.

Please speak out against these crimes to anyone who will listen and be aware of what you purchase as you may be much more connected to this war than you might think. If you would like to read more about conflict resources in the Congo, please read about my quest for a conflict free laptop.

Bookmark  and Share

Some hope for the future.

In Canada:

Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil or Gas in Developing Countries

In the US:

Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009

Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009

In the EU:

Global Witness pushes for legislation

Some of the corporations:

Congo tracking project aims to end IT industry’s use of “blood tin”

Supply chains unite to start iTSCi mineral traceability project in DRC

Global e-Sustainability Initiative


Connections to violence

So anyone who reads this blog probably knows by now that I write a lot about conflict resources. I have been scanning the mining news and other humanitarian sites for many years now, and the more I read and follow, the angrier I become.

I am angry because the abuses are so vast and I am disgusted because we as Canadians are so intricately involved in violence around the world and seem to not know about it, or worse, not care. We focus instead on providing relief from the problems we are helping to cause.

I have finally begun to share some of these news stories regarding conflict resources around the world on twitter (@miningconflict). I hope you will all follow it and send me links to new stories if you find them. This topic is one I choose to focus on, because it is the one place where we as Canadians are involved and I feel can make an actual difference without having to directly interfere in other governments or people’s affairs.

I have issues with “development“. I see it as a form of neo-colonialism. I also have issues with many humanitarian causes that can be unsustainable in the long run, vertical and even victimizing. For me, the best way to be a humanitarian is to change myself. I don’t need to go and help in some orphanage or school, or give money to some charity and often feel conflicted with both. I feel I can do far more with my choices than any money or service could ever “fix”.

By choosing to take a stand against supporting more violence and speaking out against it I feel I can be far more effective. I feel that stopping the problem needs to come to first. The saddest thing to me is that most people in Canada have no idea how much violence the Canadian government or Canadian companies have caused and are still causing worldwide, because I know they wouldn’t knowingly support these abuses. There’s little we feel we can do. There’s really no one-stop conflict-free shop (though that would be wonderful!). The government follows its lobbyists more than its constituents– and our letters seem useless.

Make no mistake about it. Our Canadian mining interests are helping to fuel violence around the world. Our stores are filled with products that have blood on them. Why do we allow this to continue? What can we do to change it? It NEEDS to be changed. And we need to do that from our end.  We need to say, we will not use products that have caused violence and we will tell the company of our choice. We need to say, we will not import products that have caused abuse or violence. We need to say, it will be illegal for our companies (and government) to cause abuse or violence in our country or abroad– and we will make sure that the legalities will actually be enforced.

We do have control over some things here in Canada. We have control over what we purchase. Over who we vote into office. Over what we voice our opinions on. These  far, far away countries are not more violent than Canada by accident. There is no magic separating “us” from “them” that makes Canada less violent. We are not somehow more advanced, or “developed”. They are not more prone to violence because of some inherent violence within them or some longstanding ethnic conflicts that we just somehow avoided here. We are connected to much of their violence. We are part of it with the choices we make each and every day here in Canada. This violence is structured. And it’s all about profit and power. Colonialism never really left us– only new masters are now in charge. Resources are still the main game.

The sooner we realize this, the better off we all will be. As long as incentives to violence remain, the longer the violence will remain. As long as we continue to “develop” countries into one progression of consumption where capitalism reigns, the longer the violence will remain. The longer we interfere and try to “fix” instead of seeing the problem amongst ourselves to “fix”, the longer the violence will remain. The only thing we need to “fix” is ourselves. We in North America need to fix our material obsessions. We need to stop being only consumers of things. Our consumption is ensuring others live in poverty and destruction while we live in luxury. We (our government) need to stop giving endless loans to warlord-like dictators who ensure it will be subsequent generations who will pay for their power. We need to to have accountability for our actions. We need to stop stealing resources away from the earth at alarming rates and funneling the profit to those who bring violence. We need to change our structures so they are fair and equitable to all. So that all have equal voice and say in affairs that concern them. This is not a “third”-world problem alone. It is a world problem. We all are the problem. And we all need to be the solution. We all need to sacrifice and change and make peace within our own lives.

What can you do about global violence? First- Stop consuming so much stuff! Contact the companies you purchase from and ask them to stop buying raw materials or manufactured goods that have fueled violence. Write to the government. Speak out about it. Tell everyone you know! And pass this message on!

Some Canadians are trying to find legal solutions. Bill C-300 is an important step in this direction. Please read up about it and speak out about it!

If you want to write to the government (and I’m hoping you will!), here are some people to try writing to:

John McKay, MP. Liberal Party of Canada, MckayJ@parl.gc.ca- responsible for bringing Bill C-300 to Parliament.

Kevin Sorenson, Chair, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, SorenK@parl.gc.ca
Angela Crandall, Clerk, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, faae@parl.gc.ca

or Write to:

House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0A6
Canada

The Prime Minister – pm@pm.gc.ca

The Foreign Affairs Minister- cannon.L@parl.gc.ca

The Leader of the Opposition- Ignatieff.M@parl.gc.ca

Other party leaders in Parliament-  Layton.J@parl.gc.ca; duceppe.G@parl.gc.ca

Find your Member of Parliament here.

And find your MPP here.

Bookmark and Share

Money and corporate Rule

Let’s look for a moment at the value of humanity against the value of corporations.

One human, a living breathing organism, is entitled to certain rights under our legal system, usually pertaining to their right to live a happy and healthy existence free from the imposition or coercion of other human beings. Yet corporations routinely infringe upon these rights and are still permitted, if not encouraged to operate.

One corporation, a manufactured entity that creates products or services in exchange for money, is entitled to more rights than a living breathing organism. They are entitled to rights that allow them to infringe upon the rights of a human being in the name of profit or development. That insanity. It makes no sense to value a manufactured entity, a corporation, more than a human life. So why do we do it? Why do we allow them to lobby the government so that they can continue to commit crimes?

How did we get here and why is it that profit comes before human rights?

In a perfect world a corporation would not be allowed to infringe upon the rights of any human being to make their product. They should, in theory, run completely legally without interfering with any rights– or they would lose their right to exist.

Sadly, on our earth as it stands, a human’s value is often only seen as the value of their earning potential and their overall economic belongings– their homes, their cars and their toys. Not their lifestyle and choices, or morality, or work ethic, or any other positive and human quality, but a purely economic one.

Does money rule your life? What would you do for money? Would you steal from another human being? Would you hold them at gunpoint, kill or abuse them? Would you rape them and their families? What if it was for millions of dollars? How about for billions? Would that be enough?

Does money really have the ability to buy everything? Is there always a price?

Money is certainly a motivating factor in many people’s lives. It is next to impossible to live in this society without any money (although some do!). Vagrancy is often not tolerated or even punished, and one cannot always easily grow their own food if they do not own land, which requires money. Freeganism alienates you from society.

Money permeates our lifestyle and helps keep us locked into a cycle of economic violence. We become disconnected from everything else. We become a cog in a very very big wheel. We purchase products made by distant hands unaware of their effect and in doing so, say it’s ok to violate human rights.

After all, how could I “live” without a cellphone, right?

Well, maybe that’s not our intention– but there is reality behind that. To ignore a corrupt system and continue to participate in it speaks volumes.

It says, we don’t care or we don’t know what to do to change it or that we are not willing to sacrifice things ourselves to make the changes.

It can be overwhelming and you can feel like there is no choice. There is.

But you have to care enough to make the changes and sacrifices personally. You have to look into what you are buying, and say, NO. I will not buy this if I don’t know and trust the source and then write to the companies that make the products and demand alternatives. Re-use what you already have, or consider buying it used… you might even get a deal on it.

Are money and material things really worth more to you than someone’s life?

Bookmark and Share

The State of the World

Here is a submission by a childhood friend of mine. I saw this post of his and had to re-print it here:

Sometimes they say “Look at the world today!” and they mean that it’s a mess. Or they say “What’s wrong with people?” and mean that they’re sick; people do sick things, they treat each other like dirt, they steal and rape and kill. They wage war. They consume recklessly and spare little thought for the state of the world, the true state, the damage caused by their actions: the landfills, the mass graves, the extinct species, the genocide.

Sometimes they ask “Why?”

It hit me today that the reason is me. Not all of it, and in fact far from most of it. But I go through my life and in my wake there is negativity and anger and the ripples of those things produce more ripples, and those still more.

I like to think I’m a good person. Most of us do. And in some ways I am. I don’t kill people and I don’t steal. I’m honest. I make sure to recycle and I take public transit. I try to keep in touch with my friends and family, and let them know how much they mean to me. But now I’m thinking that it isn’t enough. I’m thinking of the damage I leave behind me; I went across India and I got into shouting matches with a half dozen people. I told myself it was ok because I was depressed and alone and exhausted, but all I gave those men was the image of an angry foreigner, an angry white person, an angry tourist, and how is that going to carry forward with them? I don’t know why that example came to me instead of a hundred others, instead of something more personal, or darker, but when I look back on that it cuts me. It’s exactly the behaviour I do without thinking that can have the worst consequences, the feelings I’ve hurt without wanting to, the useless products I’ve bought, the packages I’ve thrown away.

I move through the world and because of its nature, the nature of my way of life, the nature of my selfishness and the fact that I am a member of a society dependent on oil and consumption, because of my fucked up psychology, my angst and guilt, my ignorance and stupidity, because of all of these things I leave damage in my wake. Negativity. And it spreads – mine fosters yours. Yours fosters mine. It spreads, ripples on a pond, and the pond is the world and the ripples are history and this has been going on forever.

So fucking of COURSE the world is like this. Of course murder happens. Of course war. They produce themselves. I produce them. You do.

By: Chad Inglis

reprinted by RS

Corporate Accountability: Political action to stop human rights abuses by Canadian mining, oil and gas companies.

It is about time!  Finally, the government of Canada is seeing the light and is attempting to mandate the corporate social responsibility of the Canadian mining, gas and oil extraction industries necessary to stop their involvement in major human rights violations around the world. This bill, if enacted, would help to ensure that corporations engaged in mining, oil or gas activities who often receive significant financial and political  support from the Government of Canada act in a manner consistent with international environmental best practices and with Canada’s commitments to international human rights standards. The Act gives the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of International Trade the responsibility of holding corporations accountable for their practices by submitting annual reports to the House of Commons and the Senate for review and allowing for a formal complaints procedure for those who have been wronged. Essentially, it is enabling a process to help catch Canadians committing crimes around the world and to prevent human rights abuses from occurring by the hand of certain Canadian corporations.

Sadly, this bill almost didn’t make it to the third reading with 137 votes for and 133 against in Parliament… only one Conservative party member voted for this bill while almost all of the rest of the Conservative party (132 of the 137 “Nays”) voted against it.

Profits should not come before people and companies should be held liable if they are committing abuses around the world to make their profits. We have laws against these types of abuses here in Canada and have signed countless international covenants against them, so why should some be allowed to get away with them just because they happen on foreign soil or because they bring in massive profits in tax dollars? Why should the government of Canada support companies if they are helping to commit crimes around the world? This makes us all guilty!

WHY ARE WE CHOOSING ECONOMIC SECURITY OVER THE RIGHTS OF HUMAN BEINGS? THAT IS CRIMINAL!

Why do some stand against this bill? Well, one position is that it will “diminish the international competitiveness of the Canadian mining industry” and possibly “drive Canadian companies to seriously consider relocating their head offices and listing outside of Canada”. Frankly, if companies are not willing to be socially responsible enough to ensure that they are not committing major human rights abuses– then I say– GOOD RIDDANCE to them!

I do not want one cent of my tax dollars going to help support their abuses. It is disgusting to me that we live in a world that gives us little choice but to use human rights abusing products to be part of our society, mostly without our knowledge and I would be thrilled if allowed the choice to choose those that are human rights abuse free.

And as for the claim that it will diminish the international competitiveness of the industry– I say being free of human right abuses gives them a new competitive edge and added marketing capability. How upset are people to learn that their products are made in sweat shops? The mining, oil and gas industries are responsible for much more far reaching and atrocious abuses. Imagine the marketing potential if the government supported the ones who made the effort with a seal of “free of human rights abuses”?  It also will make Canadian industries the new standard for the world and a shining example of what is possible; that the industry does not have to be human rights abusing and that we can buy products such as metals without having to feel guilty.

Do we really want an industry that has a hand in committing awful crimes around the world to continue that practice? Does the profit to be had really mean more than the lives of those who are being wronged? Well, according to at least 133 members of our government (because I would also tend to include those who abstain), it does.

Please take the time to review this issue and write to your politicians about it. You can read about some of the human rights abuses associated with the mining, oil and gas industries here.

If you want to write to the government (and I’m hoping you will!), here are some people to try writing to:

John McKay, MP. Liberal Party of Canada, MckayJ@parl.gc.ca- responsible for bringing the bill to Parliament.

Kevin Sorenson, Chair, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, SorenK@parl.gc.ca
Angela Crandall, Clerk, Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, faae@parl.gc.ca

or Write to:

House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0A6
Canada

The Prime Minister – pm@pm.gc.ca

The Foreign Affairs Minister- cannon.L@parl.gc.ca

The Leader of the Opposition- Ignatieff.M@parl.gc.ca

Other party leaders in Parliament-  Layton.J@parl.gc.ca; duceppe.G@parl.gc.ca

Find your Member of Parliament here.

And find your MPP here.

Here are some sample letters for you to use:

If your MP voted for, or abstained on the Bill:

Date:

Dear

Re: Support for Bill C-300 on Corporate Accountability

I am writing to let you know that I strongly support Bill C-300, an Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries.

I am appalled by regular reports that Canadian mining, oil and gas companies are involved in human rights, labour, and environmental violations around the world and by the fact that these companies often receive financial and political support from the Canadian Government. The current government’s response to these concerns is its “Building the Canadian Advantage” strategy. This voluntary approach is completely inadequate.

Bill C-300 responds to the urgent need for a stronger regulatory framework to hold Canadian mining, oil and gas companies accountable, in Canada, for human rights, labour, and environmental violations overseas. Bill C-300 has garnered support across the country and internationally. It is supported by the Canadian Network for Corporate Accountability (CNCA), an organization which includes Amnesty International Canada, the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Friends of the Earth, the Steelworkers Humanity Fund, the Canadian Labour Congress, KAIROS – Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, MiningWatch Canada and many other organizations. Bill C-300 has my support as well.

I urge Members of Parliament and the members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to support Bill C-300, recognizing that Bill C-300 reflects and responds to the recommendations that were made to the Government of Canada by the earlier Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 2005.

Yours truly,

(your name and address)

If your MP voted against, you can try this:

Dear Mr.,

I am writing to let you know that I strongly support Bill C-300, an Act respecting Corporate Accountability for the Activities of Mining, Oil and Gas Corporations in Developing Countries. I am absolutely appalled and disgusted to learn that you voted against this bill. How can you vote against protecting the human rights of people? How can you choose economic security over human rights? Against what we as Canadians stand for? You do not represent your constituency by this vote, instead, you do us all a disservice as Canadians. This will not diminish the international competitiveness of the mining industry– it will give us a competitive edge and added marketing potential and set us as a standard for the world.

We should not be supporting, either financially or politically, companies that are responsible for major human right abuses around the world. We should not leave this to voluntary cooperation– because it is NOT enough to stop the abuses from happening. If it is illegal to commit these crimes on Canadian soil, then these companies should not be permitted (and even encouraged through our support) to do so on foreign soils. This is absolutely appalling and I am deeply disturbed that you have voted it down in Parliament. I am disgusted at your lack of compassion for the violated and lack of responsibility in this issue.

Bill C-300 responds to the urgent need for a stronger regulatory framework to hold Canadian mining, oil and gas companies accountable, in Canada, for human rights, labour, and environmental violations overseas. Bill C-300 has garnered support across the country and internationally. It is supported by the Canadian Network for Corporate Accountability (CNCA), an organization which includes Amnesty International Canada, the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Friends of the Earth, the Steelworkers Humanity Fund, the Canadian Labour Congress, KAIROS – Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, MiningWatch Canada and many other organizations. Bill C-300 has my support as well.

I urge Members of Parliament and the members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development to support Bill C-300, recognizing that Bill C-300 reflects and responds to the recommendations that were made to the Government of Canada by the earlier Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 2005.

Yours truly,

(your name and address)


Bookmark and Share

What are conflict resources?

Most have probably heard of or seen the movie “Blood Diamond” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. This movie is about conflict resources, specifically diamonds. The movie traces the path of a man who is embroiled in conflict, forced to be a diamond mining slave and his struggle to find his kidnapped son. Conflict resources, however, extend far beyond just diamonds. They include tin, copper, cobalt, coltan, gold, all the vast mined metals and minerals, and even things like timber. The profits from these resources funds violence. Essentially warlords or brutal armies or corrupt governments overtake mines or resources and begin to sell them on the world market and use this money to fund their violence; buying weapons and power for themselves. The extraction process of the raw materials could have also involved violence, including slave labor, inhumane conditions, massive abuse, intimidation and murder.

One of the best definitions I’ve seen for conflict resources is this one:

“Conflict resources are natural resources whose systematic exploitation and trade in a context of conflict contribute to, benefit from or result in the commission of serious violations of human rights, violations of international humanitarian law or violations amounting to crimes under international law.”

Can you imagine handing a brutal warlord with a massive continual supply of money to buy weapons and power? This is what is happening. We continue and continue to supply and support warlords and then spend great amount of money and effort trying to stop them from warring. We continue to buy products that have supported war, unaware; and wonder what incentive these people could possibly have to war and kill each other. I’d say millions of dollars a month is quite an incentive for many…

The complicated nature of the metals market allows for this to continue. “The metals market can be understood by analogy to a pool of water that is being fed by many streams. Numerous sources, including primary and recycled metal producers, supply the metals market, which is a global commodity pool that circulates and mixes freely. At the same time, numerous buyers withdraw from the pool, often not distinguishing source other than on price. Within the metal pool, metal is metal, where one unit of atoms is substitutable for another.” Something needs to change in the way metals and raw materials are traded and extracted.

Why is this happening? Profit is not enough of a reason, especially with many companies claiming “ethical” business practices. There is nothing ethical about supporting murder, rape, abuse and massive violence. The system is so complicated that most companies no longer have control over their own products. They have no idea what is going into their products and where the raw materials all actually come from. This is unacceptable and the longer we ignore it, the more people will die.

Everyone became aware of conflict diamonds and the Kimberly process was created to try and stop conflict diamonds from getting into the market, but they forgot (or never knew about) the other resources that are creating just as much, or even more violence. There are ways to stop this type of violence, but there needs to be more than voluntary regulations that are not even enforced or are beyond the scope of national legalities.

Please read up on the issue (I write frequently about this topic here), and write a letter/email to the following people (and any more you come across) urging them to stop the violence. You can also post complaints on any company you feel are falsely advertising “ethical business practices” here. A sample letter follows. If you would like more suggestions or need more information, please feel free to contact me at apeaceofconflict.gmail.com.

Some computer companies:

Hewlett Packard dfisher@hp.com

Acer Canada-Sales@acer.com

Toshiba Sherry.Lyons@toshiba.ca

Dell: try writing their corporate office at:
Dell Canada
155 Gordon Baker Rd., Suite 501
North York, Ontario M2H 3N5

Apple: try writing their corporate office at:
Apple Computer
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino California 95014

Government officials:

The Prime Minister – pm@pm.gc.ca

The Foreign Affairs Minister- cannon.L@parl.gc.ca

The Leader of the Opposition- Ignatieff.M@parl.gc.ca

Other party leaders in Parliament- Layton.J@parl.gc.ca; duceppe.G@parl.gc.ca

And find your MPP here.

Sample letter to computer companies:

Dear________.

I am writing to express my concern over the use of conflict resources in your product line. Many of the raw materials used to manufacture your products could have supported violence. Most metals are said to pass through a minimum of 10 hands before ever reaching the manufacturing stage, making the origins very difficult to trace. Many of these metals have been mined in war zones, some even by slave labour, and are helping to fuel conflict and massive violence in these regions. The current state of the metal industry leaves the source of each metal rather ambiguous. This is unacceptable practice that must stop.

Your company’s current efforts are not enough to stop the violence. Conflict resources are still getting through and into your product line. Voluntary cooperation to minimum standards is not enough. Something more serious must be done.

I urge you to take a stand against the violence and create structures to stop it. I urge you to have an ethical business practice that actually means something. I do not want to buy a product that has contributed to violence.

Yours sincerely,

Where to go from here…

I’ve been incredibly frustrated with the computer industry’s response to my inquiries. I have hit a wall in my research, with little place left to go at this level. I have talked to the people at the companies who are responsible for dealing with human rights inquiries and they have all told me all the information they are willing to give. Their information has left me with many further questions and inquiries into how they are planning to change the problem in the future, and waiting on them to actually implement the changes voluntarily. This could take forever and I’m not willing to wait anymore.

The information they have shared is scary. It’s scary because it makes plain that these abuses are possibly happening in the manufacture of every modern electronics device and possibly far beyond this to include many other metal products that most North Americans use every single day.

Think about this for a moment. How many electronic devices do you have in your home? How many computers, laptops, cameras, cell phones, game consoles, etc. do you own? How many will you go through in the next 5 years? Each of these products has touched war. They have allowed human beings to be slaughtered, raped, enslaved, abused… They have allowed children to be recruited as soldiers, and forced them to grow up with violence all around them. How can any of these companies claim ethical purchasing policies at all? Why are they not responsible for ensuring their own product line is not causing human rights abuses in other parts of the world? Why are they allowed to sidestep legalities for profit? There is something seriously wrong with the world.

Some companies have taken baby steps to change, but everything is so disconnected that it is next to impossible to prove or disprove anything or to allow for complete change overnight.

My new goal has become to go to the higher source. To go to the metal companies that supply the computer and electronics industries with raw materials for manufacture. I think that these have more of a possibility for answers and success. Voluntary cooperation is not going to stop this violence.

I strive for regulation in the manufacture and extraction of raw materials, so that companies and unknowing consumers are not supporting war in another part of the world. There is no reason this type of violence should continue. There is no reason that we should unknowingly be supplying warlords with massive profits or weapons and allowing them to continue their violence. We need to stop fueling them with money and weapons– otherwise we are are partially guilty of the violence. We need to change our own ways, and voice our opinions to the companies and governments responsible.

Genocide is happening, and we are all part of it. The time has come to stop, and it will not happen through peacekeeping or UN efforts alone. This is only responding to the manifestations and not the underlying causes of the violence. YOU need to change. YOU need to become aware. YOU need to speak your mind to the companies and governments who allow this continue. YOU need to be aware that every time you purchase metals, you might be causing death and destruction through your purchases.

It is an uncomfortable thought, I know, but the longer we go on ignoring the problem– the longer it will continue. Please speak out against the abuses in the production of our luxuries and strive to make real change.


Bookmark and Share

HP’s steps

Now I like HP, well, at least I like them the best out of any of the computer companies I have had the (dis)pleasure of having dialogue with. HP and I had a rocky start as I tried to get to someone who could tell me what I needed to know.

Now that I have found that person, the Product Content Manager, things have gone much more smoothly. She has been forthcoming in answering my questions as directly as possible, even when it implicates the imperfections in their own system, and not trying to skirt around the issues with other faulty claims. I can respect this, because at least it means they are being somewhat forthcoming with me and are actively pursuing some answers from their own suppliers. At least I have a better chance of getting to the truth. I would be more likely to buy from them than any other computer company at this point simply for the direct way in which they have responded to me.

I have been told that HP is an active participant in the EICC/GeSI Extractives Working group which is initiating a project this year to develop supply chain transparency models for cobalt, tin and tantalum. This is a positive step (but not yet enough). Several other companies are also on board with this initiative. (see http://www.gesi.org/files/20080620_ghgm_ser_metalstoelectronics.pdf)

I was given information by HP on the specific suppliers that I questioned in my previous emails to them (Kemet and Hitachi) and was told they have assurances from these companies that they are now using conflict-free resources in the form of Letters of Certification for the source of the materials. I was only able to access this information because they allowed their suppliers to be scruitinized and allowed me to look into slightly deeper than other companies into their supply chain. This is great step and means that they are actually trying to get some answers from their suppliers and are actually willing to work with the public to allow some level of scruitiny.

Do I believe their suppliers’ claims to them? No, I most definitely do not. Especially since the two suppliers that I specificially questioned HP about were implicated in a UN report for major human rights abuses less than 10 years ago and have yet to be charged or investigated further for these abuses. No one has yet to be held accountable for the past abuses, and no real structure has been put into place that I can ascertain to prevent them from happening again in the future.

Letters of Certification are not enough, especially since the metal market is so complicated. As the 2008 report Social and Environmental Responsibility in Metals Supply to the Electronic Industry details, “The metals market can be understood by analogy to a pool of water that is being fed by many streams. Numerous sources, including primary and recycled metal producers, supply the metals market, which is a global commodity pool that circulates and mixes freely. At the same time, numerous buyers withdraw from the pool, often not distinguishing source other than on price. Within the metal pool, metal is metal, where one unit of atoms is substitutable for another.”

If this is the case, there is a long way to go to prevent the metals from entering our electronics devices. Hopefully some sort of structure will be put in place to stop these abuses that goes beyond a voluntary basis. These are human rights abuses that are against the law and should be stopped. Resource extraction is one of the main incentives to war and bloody massacres, slavery and abuse happen for this purpose. There is no reason that these structures should not be mandated by international and national laws. Companies should not be allowed to disregard or sidestep legalities because the system is complicated or because they use suppliers in different countries or are disconnected from their own product line. The law is the law, and companies that break the laws should be punished, especially if they are doing so in full knowledge and making no real steps to change.


Bookmark and Share

Toshiba

Toshiba has been a brand much like HP, that makes it difficult for me to discount their claims outright. They seem to actually care, and have some structures in place (a corporate social responsibility framework) to be able to make a change and seem to be willing to discuss (to some extent) their policies. They are also one of the leaders (along with HP) in their overall environmental and social record. After a great deal of searching and prodding I think I have found the person at their company who can really start to give me some answers into the depths of these policies.

The first round of questioning went as expected. I inquired about their ethical purchasing and was sent the stock information on their corporate social responsibilty (CSR) policy which did not answer my questions and which I had already mostly read online before.

The information sent to me talked about their request to the component suppliers to take action against human rights abuses, but not the details of how far this actually goes and whether it is enforced or not in any great detail. It also mentioned that an independent audit was performed by a third party and that suppliers had been monitored, but no word on what the results had been of the monitoring and what actions had changed as a result of the overall policy. It also didn’t mention if this monitoring extended past manufacturers into raw material suppliers, which I am guessing it does not based on its wording.

The woman I had been dealing with eventually got back to me after a couple of weeks, apologizing for the late reply and sent me a link to their Procurement Policy (which I had already read thoroughly), and specified that they cannot disclose details of their suppliers for confidentiality reasons. Along with that she sent me this statement:

“Just for your information, upon our recent investigation/inquiry with
our suppliers(*) of PC components(*), we have been informed that they do not procure/use tantalum (Coltan) sourced from the DR Congo.”

but no evidence or link to where this information could be found or which level of suppliers was contacted and what they are actually doing to ensure this. There was also no mention in her email what the asterixes were implying.

I sent back a letter describing to her that most ore passes through at least 10 hands before it ever gets to the supplier stage and that much of the ore claimed to have come from neighbouring countries is actually sourced in the DR Congo war zones because of inadequate structures in place.

I also inquired why she had included (*) in her statements, because I didn’t read any fine print or addendum to the email that would explain their purpose.

I discussed the competition argument in light of HP’s (mostly) open supplier list and their ability to still remain competitive. I stated that I would like to continue the dialogue to receive more information about what their policy really meant.

This letter was sent 8 days ago and I am still waiting on a further response from Toshiba, which if past actions are an indicator, should be about another week out.

I am sick and tired of hearing claim after claim from these companies with no proof or backing for the claims. Most of the time they don’t even directly answer my questions (like in this email), they skirt the issue with other claims. Transparency is key. You can reveal your suppliers and still be competitive. You can open your company to scruitiny and still be competitive. In fact, I would be more likely to purchase your product if you allowed scruitiny into your product line, EVEN if it was possible that human rights abuses were still happening. The reasoning for this– you are at least making an effort and want the people to actually know what you are doing and not just using another marketing ploy to fool people into buying into your brand.


Bookmark and Share

New Colonies of Death: despair, anarchy and plunder in the Congo.

This is an essay I wrote for a class last year that talked about the conflict in the DRC. It discusses the human rights abuses happening, the main parties involved, and the complicit governments and companies who have a hand in ensuring the abuses continue.

“The deadliest war since [WW2] is starting again – and you are almost certainly carrying a blood-soaked chunk of the slaughter in your pocket. When we glance at the holocaust in Congo… the clichés of Africa reporting tumble out: this is a “tribal conflict” in “the Heart of Darkness”. It isn’t. The United Nations investigation found it was a war led by “armies of business” to seize the metals that make our 21st-century society zing and bling. The war in Congo is a war about you. …These resources were not being stolen for use in Africa. They were seized so they could be sold on to us. The more we bought, the more the invaders stole – and slaughtered.” – Johan Hari, commentator at The Independent (Uhururadio.com, 2008)

 

The massive human rights violations happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are being perpetuated by a variety of complex and inter-weaving actors both locally and internationally. Multiple militias, armies, and security forces roam the country, wreaking havoc on villages and innocents as they pass. Calculating the exact numbers of victims is currently nearly impossible as many people are simply missing, probably decomposing in the forest, or in mass graves, with no surviving family members left to miss them, and incomplete national registration processes that didn’t even know they existed in the first place. The continual conflict and insecurity also makes it next to impossible for monitoring missions or human rights observers to do their job. As many as 45,000 people are dying per month of war-related causes. These deaths include not only direct violence, but also disease, starvation, and malnutrition (among other things) brought upon by the violence.  These statistics do not even begin to address the psychological abuses, physical abuses, sexual violence, tortures, displacements and destruction of property, let alone the severe and lasting political, social and economic effects that the continued violence has on the country itself.

The DRC is in desperate need of intervention, security, regulation, mediation, negotiations, assistance and structures to help it to stabilize itself before more people are endangered. Too many of the population have been living in constant fear, terror and frustration, in the face of daily bloodshed, destruction and death. They have lived in a virtual hell for over a decade, mostly ignored by the outside world.  We as Canadians are helping to ensure this conflict continues, despite the outward veneer of philanthropy our government and our media would have us believe. The individuals of the world need to wake up and realize the connection that exists between their own lives and the rest of humanity. The media of the “global north” mostly ignore the cries of Africa, and most definitely ignore the connections Canadians have to the bloodshed. Resistance to these atrocities does exist, in the form of certain media, academic scholarship, human rights organizations, awareness campaigns, and individual actions. The possibility for peace in the DRC exists, but it will take an intense combined international and local acknowledgement of the severity of the situation, the complex institutions that reinforce it, and the support and effort necessary to stop it.

The Crimes

Several former militia leaders have been charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes or crimes against humanity committed in the DRC and have warrants out for their arrest (ICC, 2004). The charges include massacres of civilians, systematic rape, torture, murder of UN peacekeepers; along with multiple other war crimes and crimes against humanity including enlisting and conscripting children under the age of fifteen to actively participate in hostilities. Among those charged are Jean-Pierre Bemba (the former VP of the transitional government of the DRC), Thomas Lubanga Dyilo (founder and former leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots), General Laurent Nkunda (former leader of the Rally for Congolese Democracy), Bosco Ntaganda (military chief of staff of the National Congress for the Defense of People), Germain Katanga (leader of the Patriotic Resistance Force in Ituri), and Mathieu Ngudjolo Chiu (of the National Integrationist Front). Many other regional parties, such as Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), are also guilty of war crimes in the DRC (Faul, 2008). Many leaders of the LRA have also been charged by the ICC, but not in connection to crimes committed in the DRC. Although these parties are guilty of numerous atrocities and wanted by the international community, the lack of enforcement capabilities at the ICC means that many of these criminals may remain elusive for years to come (Allen, 2006; 4-9).

The government in the case of the DRC is also guilty, as is its army and its president Joseph Kabila. Although not yet (and probably never to be) charged by the ICC for mostly political reasons, Kabila, his army and his government have been accused of rampant human rights abuses. These include the presence of children in the ranks of the DRC armed forces, the new recruitment of child soldiers, abuses against street children, as well as sexual violence, torture, disappearances, mass murders, abuse of civilians, and the arbitrary arrest and detention without charge of children allegedly associated with armed opposition groups (HRW, August 22, 2008).  Many of these abuses are in strict contradiction to The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNHCR, 1989) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN, 1948); and are considered war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the past 3 months alone, the government has been charged with the murder of at least 20 civilians, including 5 children (HRW, November 7, 2008), and wounding at least 50 civilians by direct violence (HRW, November 7, October 30, 2008). In this same time period, they have been accused of numerous rapes, robberies, as well as the arbitrary detention and subsequent torture of at least 40 Tutsi and other alleged sympathizers of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda (HRW, October 30, 2008). Roadblocks set up by the government have prevented many fleeing citizens from escaping the violence, often forcing them to pay a “tax” or bribe or give up their electoral (and identity) cards to pass through (HRW, September 25, 2008). The government has circumvented the Rome Statute and its obligations to arrest and surrender four leaders of the LRA, instead sending them into the Sudan (which refuses to cooperate with the ICC) where they are sure to evade justice (Clifford, 2007).  The government has also been accused of colluding with the Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda or FDLR (a rebel militia), most notably over the control of the lucrative mineral trade in North Kivu (The Economist, Oct 18, 2008; 57).

More than 20 militias roam the DRC, bringing with them intense violence and destruction. The Hutu Interhamwe militias responsible for the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda have mostly transformed into the FDLR now fighting in the northeastern DRC. The FDLR is guilty of mass human-rights violations, ranging from mass murder, to public gang raping and sexual violence, torture, disappearances, destruction of property (burning entire villages to the ground), and other abuses against the civilian population in the DRC. In only the past 3 months, at least 100 civilians have been killed and more than 200 have been wounded by the direct violence of rebel forces (HRW, November 7, 2008). Nkunda’s forces also encouraged the town of Rutshuru on October 28th, 2008 to dismantle displacement camps where more than 26,000 people had sought refuge (HRW, November 7, 2008). The FDLR was accused of deliberately killing at least 20 civilians and wounding another 33 in Kiwanja on November 4th, 2008 during a battle for the town and the “cleanup” operations that followed. The rebels ordered the population of some 30,000 inhabitants to leave the town, while systematically seeking out and killing particularly men, who they accused of supporting their enemies (HRW, November 6, 2008). The Congolese government was supposed to have disarmed the FDLR according to a 2008 peace agreement, but has made no effort to do so thus far (HRW, Oct, 30, 2008).

The Mai Mai, a group of traditional Congolese local security forces that operate inside the DRC, support the government by working as guerillas inside territory held by antigovernment forces. They have also been accused of similar atrocities on the civilian population (Ware, 2001), including recruiting at least 37 children into militias in the last week of October 2008 (HRW, November 7, 2008), and deliberately killing at least 6 civilians in Kiwanja on November 4-5, 2008 (HRW, November 6, 2008). Many of the neighboring African governments (including the Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi) are guilty of crimes within the borders of the DRC. They claim to be protecting their borders from invasion by DRC-based armed groups which legitimizes (in their minds) sending troops to these locations (Essick, 2001).  The list of atrocities committed by all parties is incredibly extensive and entirely incomplete, as the war has raged on for over a decade and the almost non-existent infrastructure makes proper investigating of crimes almost impossible. War-related deaths make it even harder to establish direct guilt of parties. If these numbers were included as specific crimes by individuals, as many as 45,000 people are dying each month because of direct violence, or disease, malnutrition, and starvation brought on by dislocation because of violence (Reuters, 2008). Reports come from a variety of sources including the millions of surviving victims who were first-hand witnesses; the UN’s monitoring mission, human rights organizations, official government reports, NGOs and other organizations, radio, blogs, and newspaper accounts.

The Conflict

            The DRC’s conflict is intimately connected to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Rwanda’s post-war Tutsi government invaded the Congo (then named Zaire) in 1996 to pursue extremist Hutu militias and helped to overthrow leader Mobutu Sese Seko from his thirty two year rule. The Rwandans installed rebel leader Laurent Kabilla, only to later turn against him when he was accused of stirring hatred towards Tutsis in the Congo. Rwanda intervened to try and remove him from power with the help of the Ugandans, and ignited a new regional conflict as Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe joined forces with Kabilla to fight off the Rwandans. Laurent Kabilla was assassinated in January of 2001, and replaced by his son Joseph Kabilla, who set up a power-sharing government and began “negotiating peace”[1] with some of the parties. He was eventually elected as President in 2006 (Reuters, 2008).

            The DRC’s infrastructure is in shambles. At least 5.4 million people are dead since 1998 from war related violence, hunger and disease, and at least 40,000 women and girls have been raped (although the actual number is probably significantly higher than this; Reuters, 2008). This conflict has been called the worst humanitarian crisis ever, with armies and militias increasingly recruiting children for their fighting. A January 2008 peace deal signed between the government and 22 of the rebel groups (but clearly excluding others such as the FDLR; The Economist, October 18th, 2008; 57) has not been able to contain the violence (Reuters, 2008).

Push for Democracy

            The first “post-war” elections in the DRC were delayed six times in two years, eventually happening in July of 2006 (Clark, 2007; 30). Much of the violence in North and South Kivu during that period was attributed to Nkunda’s rebel forces trying to increase military and political power. Nkunda represents the minority Tutsi (ethnic group) population in the DRC and his attacks have helped to increase anti-Tutsi sentiment while increasing support for Kabila across the country. The elections process was fraught with difficulty as over 26 million voters had to be registered, in an area with very little infrastructure[2] or government capability. The 2006 elections were the most expensive in history with the UN and the European Union (EU) providing almost 500 million US dollars for logistics. The voter turnout was around 75%, and international observers reported only isolated cases of voting irregularities and violence near polling stations. The elections were proclaimed an incredible success, despite the fact that many of the electoral candidates were rebel leaders still involved in violence across the country (Clark, 2007; 32). Joseph Kabila won the elections, but without the majority, requiring a runoff election in October. The runoff occurred between Kabila and his closest rival, Bemba, who was accused by the ICC a year later for crimes against humanity. Two days after the first round of elections, the forces of Bemba and Kabila fought in the streets (Clark, 2007; 33), as if nothing had changed. The war raged on, despite this new found “democracy”, even though the world subsequently forgot about the people of the Congo. The elections processes seem to have been more meaningful to the “western” world who still like to describe them as a “success” (Economist, October 18, 2008; 57) than to local actors who know the truth.

Trade, Investment and Debt

The World Bank (WB) has classified the DRC under its Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), making it eligible (according to the WB) to reduce the constraints on economic growth and poverty reduction imposed by the DRC’s debt-services burdens (WB, 2006). In reality, the WB and International Monetary Fund (IMF) are providing the human-rights abusing government of the Congo with a continual supply of funding that will eventually be extracted from the people (and not the borrowing government) through Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs). One of the conditions of SAPs require the roll-back of state services, such as health care, education, etc. to generate funds to begin repaying debt. The continued financial support for a proven corrupt and human-rights abusing government by the WB and IMF is appalling, especially since it will be the poor and marginalized and not the borrowing government who will be the ones to suffer the effects. Stabilization and welfare spending targets required by the IMF were completely ignored by the Congolese government because of their need for increased military spending (EN, 2008). This internationally funded money then was used to finance the atrocities of the Congolese government instead of its proposed aim to help the people. The IMF and the WB have continued funding, despite receiving reports on the Congolese government’s misspending, and so are complicit in the crimes (EN, 2008). The effect of the WB and IMF’s policy has been said to be “legaliz(ing) the corporate looting of the Congo” with “foreign companies pay(ing) nothing to the government for lucrative mining concessions” (Ismi and Schwartz, 2007)

The Congo has fallen on the Inward FDI Potential Index, which ranks countries by how they do in attracting inward direct investment, from 73rd (out of 140 economies) in 1988 to 139th (out of 141 economies) in 2006 (UNCTAD, 2006). The lack of basic infrastructure such as roads or railways combined with continual conflict make investment and trades a difficult venture for many local and international corporations despite the fact that the DRC does have a major deep-water port that is currently not being utilized and is abundant in natural resources. The Congo was ranked 175th out of 178 countries on the Doing Business report of 2007. The institutional environment is not conducive to business, with the country’s financial sector completely underdeveloped. Real growth in trade of goods and services declined significantly in 2007 from 11.1% in 2005-6 to only 0.7% in 2007, giving the DRC the rank of 151st out of 160 countries in terms of real growth in trade (WB, 2008).

 

The Complicit

The governments of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi are all accused of supporting rebel groups that fight within the DRC. The government of Rwanda refuses to allow the FDLR’s demands to return to Rwanda and transform themselves into a legitimate political party, and also refuses to negotiate or participate in peace talks with the group. The UN and other governments who backed a January 2008 peace deal addressed Nkunda’s rebellion, but offered no forum for talks with the FDLR, ignoring one of the key actors in the crisis and ensuring the conflict’s continuation (The Economist, October 18, 2008; 57).

The governments of Zimbabwe, Angola, Chad, Sudan, Namibia, China, Canada, the United States and several other countries are complicit in their support for the human-rights abusing Congolese government.  The United States, along with supporting the human-rights abusing DRC government, paints the war in the Congo as a French issue, refusing to send troops or support the mission in the Congo until France does something about Iraq (Cowan, 2005). Owing over a billion dollars (or 68% of the regular budget arrears) to the UN, the United States’ lack of financial commitment means fewer troops and support for UN missions, which could help alleviate the suffering of the people of the DRC (Global Policy Forum, 2008). The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 2005 pleaded with member states for assistance to stop escalating violence in northeastern DRC. Only Uruguay responded, with 750 troops to replace over 5,000 departing Ugandans (Cowan, 2005). Departing a few years later, the Uruguayans were eventually replaced by an Indian contingent of 4,500, only after the Senegalese refused to move in (IANS, 2008).  The international community has failed to prevent these atrocities by their continual inaction and lack of full support for peace processes and so is complicit in the atrocities (Cowan, 2005).

Several other international governments are also guilty of complicity in the crimes of the DRC. The government of Libya provides arms and logistical support to Congolese government forces, while North Korea sent advisors to train government troops. Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe all have supported the government of DRC, financially, logistically and in arms (Ware, 2001). The government of China made a deal with the Congolese government worth $9 billion to get access to several of Congo’s minerals in return for building a highway and a railroad in the Congo (Faul, November 3, 2008). The international community has failed to properly respond to the crisis. International humanitarian aid to the Congo was $188 million or only $3.23 per person in 2004 (with a death toll of about 5.4 million people). Contrast this to the aid received for the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 (with a death toll of about 150,000) which netted over $2 billion in humanitarian aid from the international community (IRC, 2004). International humanitarian aid has been controversial. In fact, the massive influx of humanitarian aid to Rwandan refugees in the Congo following the 1994 Rwandan genocide has been cited as actually strengthening or starting many militias who are now committing atrocities in the DRC (Clark, 2007)

Perhaps surprisingly, Canadians are among these guilty actors. Many Canadians are guilty for purchasing or using products[3] that have components that were possibly sourced in the war zones of the DRC and obtained through illegal or unethical means that support human-rights violating actors who are ensuring the war continues in this region. The retail companies which sell these products are guilty of complicity, along with the individual buyers, buyer companies, distributors and marketers who buy, sell, advertise or use these products. 

The DRC is home to 80% of the world’s supply of coltan (columbite-tantalite), a metallic ore that is processed into tantalite and used in many electronic devices (Dizolele, 2007), and currently supplies at least 15% of the world’s coltan needs (Essick et al., 2001). The world’s largest supply of cobalt is also found and mined in the DRC (Cobalt Development Institute, 2008) along with wolframite, tungsten ore,  tin, and several other minerals (Nolen, 2008). Human Rights Watch researchers claim “there is a direct link between human rights abuses and the exploitation of resources in areas in the DRC occupied by Rwanda and Uganda” (Essick, 2001). Rebels strategically attack coltan-rich villages in the North, causing environmental destruction in the Congo’s protected national parks that have nearly decimated the gorilla populations, and whose profits fund rebel and government projects that are responsible for mass murder, rape, torture, and a plethora of other atrocities in the DRC (Essick, 2001).  

Many of these minerals are smuggled out of the Congo into neighboring Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi to export onto the global market. This is indicated by the increase in official statistics on the export of coltan for these countries following their occupation in northeastern Congo (Essick, 2001), and their official export statistics which include minerals not found natively in these countries (Nolen, 2008). Profits from smuggling often go directly into the pockets of warring parties. Officials and miners would seem to corroborate these accounts, with statements such as, “The armed groups are all involved in mining – even our Congolese armed forces,” and “The FDLR are the ones controlling the coltan mines and they are very strong”. The mining ministry claims that the FDLR controls at least 20 percent of mining in the eastern area of the country (Nolen, 2008). Rebel groups often use forced labor, illegal monopolies and civilian murder to extract these resources, earning up to $20 million a month in profits, making continued war to ensure access to resources incredibly lucrative (Essick, 2001).

The Congolese government and armed forces also serve to profit.  Along with taking bribes at numerous military and police checkpoints that allow smuggled minerals through, the government has also been accused of using “taxation” of minerals to line their own pockets. The armed forces have even been accused of forcing the local population to mine its cassiterite mine at Bisie, as essentially slave labor (Nolen, 2008). This contravenes Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states that no one shall be held in slavery (UN, 1948). The profits from mining, either through bribery or “taxation” of the trade means there is little incentive to move against the rebels and actually stop the war. The cost to bribe a border guard (who are rarely paid their official $40 a month salary) to smuggle a shipment of minerals across the borders is about $350, in contrast to the government’s “taxation” on minerals which makes legal exportation of minerals cost upwards of $17,000 per shipment. Occupation of land by the army is more “acceptable” under war, so mines are simply taken over and exploited. The governments then, along with individual soldiers often serve to profit from continuing conflict. Businesses dealing with the smuggled goods also have little incentive to stop, with statements such as, “it’s not as easy as, ‘get out of the business and wait.’ There’s a huge investment here: half a million dollars” (Nolen, 2008).

Although many of these companies claim to have “ethical business practices”, they are complicit in the war crimes in the DRC by not insisting on regulations that prevent using war-related minerals in their business practices. Tracing the supply chain for coltan is deemed by the mining industry as nearly impossible, as most ore passes through at least 10 hands before it ends up in electronic devices (Essick, 2001). This is interesting considering the Kimberly process was able to overcome this to make regulations in the diamond industry to prevent many violence-related diamonds from entering the marketplace (Kimberly Process, 2008). Most mining in the DRC is done by peasants attracted to the possibility of making a few dollars a day, including children with estimates that suggest that 30 percent of schoolchildren in northeastern Congo have forgone schooling to dig for coltan. This ore is collected by local traders (often rebels), who sell to regional traders located in Rwanda and Uganda. In Rwanda alone, more than 20 international mineral trading companies have been reported by the UN as importing minerals from the Congo. These import companies sell to companies such as AVX, Epcos, Hitachi, Kemet, NEC and Vishay, which manufacture capacitors. These capacitors then go into products manufactured by Alcatel, Compaq, Dell, Ericsson, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lucent, Motorola, Nokia and Solectron, to name a few. Many of the companies claimed to have asked their suppliers whether the minerals supplied to them were mined in the DRC, but the CEO of AVX, Dick Rosen says they “don’t have an idea where (the metal) comes from. There’s no way to tell. I don’t know how to control it”. Epcos denies using conflict resources, despite the fact that their own suppliers A&M Minerals and Metals claim they “couldn’t tell you for 100 percent that this material (from Uganda) didn’t come from the Congo. It could have been smuggled across the border” (Essick, 2001).

At least 10 Canadian mining corporations were implicated for supporting major human rights offenders in the DRC by the UN’s 2000 “Report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Congo” (UNSC, 2002) and have yet to be further investigated or punished for these crimes. Anvil Mining, a Canadian copper mining company working in the DRC, was accused of providing logistics to troops in the massacre of close to 100 people; a charge that they vehemently argue was accidental, unknown at the time and forced upon them by local legalities (Anvil Mining, 2008). All of the ten corporations in the report were accused of violating the guidelines of the OECD; some were even accused of bribing officials to gain access to land and its containing resources. Barrick Gold, another Canadian mining business, is supplied by and partnered with Adastra mining, which received a one billion dollar deal for control of mines in the Congo at Kolwezi (for cobalt) and Kipushi (for zinc) from Laurent Kabila’s Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire (ADFL) before they were officially in power and in legal control of said resources (Snow and Barouski, 2006).

The Canadian government is guilty for supporting major human rights offenders, specifically Joseph Kabila and the RPF. They are also guilty of complicity for supporting the implicated mining companies accused of violations, by allowing mining-friendly tax laws (NRC, 2008) and for not further investigating and punishing those implicated in the UN report. The Canadian government is also guilty of refusing the UN’s request for peacekeeping assistance and aid, and instead funneling these resources for the continued illegal war in Afghanistan. Canada has all but abandoned its peacekeeping missions (with less than 56 troops worldwide), despite the fact that peacekeeping was recognized as a strong defining Canadian value by 69% of Canadians in a national survey (Staples, 2006). Canadian troops and support are needed in the Congo to help stop the human rights abuses, but the responsibilities to the international community are being ignored by the current Canadian government.

The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Canada’s lead agency for development assistance abroad, committed $33 million for projects and initiatives in the DRC in 2006-7. These projects focused mostly on political and economic governance and access to primary health care (CIDA, 2008), and mostly ignored the broader humanitarian situation. The humanitarian situation in the DRC has been described as “the worst humanitarian crisis ever “(Reuters, 2008). The situation has gotten so bad in recent weeks that thousands of local Congolese demonstrators have taken to physically attacking the UN compound in Goma for what they say is the UN’s failure to protect them against rebel attacks and provide them with the basic necessities of life (AP, 2008). The UN says its first priority is re-supplying clinics that have been looted by retreating government troops. Unfortunately, this means that refugees who haven’t eaten for days are met with shipments of soap and jerry cans (to prevent disease) while they wait for death by starvation. These refugees have recently taken up with the demonstrators in violently attacking anything identified with the UN (Faul, November 3, 2008).

The Silence of the Media

              The mainstream media has largely ignored the Congolese conflict, instead favoring to spotlight more “popular” conflicts and issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan or Darfur. Stories about the DRC are mostly relegated to a small column (of less than 1,000 words) in the middle of the paper, or a quick blurb on the news, that is shorter than the laptop commercial that follows it. None of the stories collected during the past 3 months about the Congo appeared on the front page of the paper, even though the Congo is arguably the most violent conflict and largest humanitarian crisis currently happening in the world. In three major Canadian newspapers (The Globe and Mail, The National Post and The Toronto Star) the conflict in the Congo was reported only about half as much as the conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq[4], despite the fact that the death tolls are considerably higher in the Congo (several hundred thousand in Afghanistan and Iraq versus the 5.4 million deaths in the DRC). The Congo has just recently started to become the “issue of the moment” and is receiving slightly more press than normal, but still nowhere near the amount that stories about Iraq or Afghanistan receive in the mainstream media. Most of this press focuses on the victims, projects, aid or organizations working to make a difference, or the “tribal” or “ethnic” components fueling the crimes and not the resource extraction or international complicity in the crimes. During the chaotic month of August 2008, the DRC began descending into the highest level of violence it had seen in many years. Despite this fact, the Economist, the Globe and Mail and the National Post did not even mention the fighting in the Congo once during this period, except to mention mineral extraction projects and the profits they were earning (Globe and Mail, August 12, 2008).

              The media keeps highlighting the “successful elections” (Economist, October 18, 2008; 57), talking about the DRC with almost surprise that peace has not yet been found despite its new “democracy”. The journalists predict that things will soon get worse “fear(ing) that huge, frightening massacres could start again…”. This despite the fact that hundreds of people had been slaughtered, assaulted or dislocated in singular events during that same month, which many would consider to be massacres (HRW, November 6, 2008). The Economist reported that more than one hundred thousand people were forced to flee their homes since mid-August of 2008 because of escalating violence (Economist, October 18, 2008; 57), even though they themselves had not reported a single thing about this violence until October.

              Almost surprisingly, the Globe and Mail seems to portray rebel leader Nkunda as almost caring in contrast to incapable UN troops. Statements such as “(Nkunda) declared he was opening a humanitarian corridor to allow aid to get through and refugees to get home. To ease food shortages, rebels… allowed farmers to reach Goma in trucks packed with (food)” and “rebels seem to be holding a self-imposed ceasefire” (Faul, November 3, 2008) are found in the same article which criticizes the UN’s inability to secure food for refugees.  Nothing was mentioned of the UN member states’ lack of financial or troop support, the main reason for the food shortages among the refugees. Most of the Globe and Mail articles completely ignored the resource components to the war, or mentioned them only in passing, such as “(the peace process) threatened to cut off warlords and neighboring-country governments from their access to the illegal mineral trade” (Nolen, October 18, 2008). The majority of columns that did mention the resource component mentioned only the warlords or neighboring government’s role and not that of international companies or governments that are also guilty. One article was even titled “How Rebels Profit From Blood and Soil” (Nolen, October 29, 2008; emphasis added), entirely ignoring the international component. Often, the “festering hatreds left over from the 1994 Rwandan genocide” are cited as fueling the conflict (Faul, October 30, 2008), ignoring the intense structural or economic components that clearly play a role. Few editorials about the Congo have been written in the past year. For example, in the Toronto Star, only 2 op-eds that mention the Congo have been published in the past year; one in March, and one in November (Dallaire, 2008; Goar, 2008). Dallaire’s editorial mentioned the Congo only in passing, saying “We did not intervene to stop the slaughter in the Congo”, and even then only in the past tense, as if the fighting had already stopped.

Resistance

              Mfuni Kazadi, Secretary-General of the group the Coalition for the Cancellation of the Illegitimate Debts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, opposes the WB’s demand that the Congo pay debts accumulated by Mobutu. Kazadi has said,

“The Rwandans were used by the US as puppets to fight for American interests. When the war started, there were American ships that gathered all the communications for Rwanda’s and Uganda’s armies. US authorities said that the Congo is too big and must be divided into four countries. The resistance of the Congolese to this partition has led to the death of (more than) four million people.” (Ismi and Schwartz, 2007)     

The enduring resistance of the Congolese to the balkanization desired by the US is cited by Kazadi as the real reasons for the continued war (Ismi and Schwartz, 2007). Other local scholars, such as Felix Ulombe Kaputu who was wrongly jailed and tortured by the Congolese government, have also spoken out against the continuing violence (Anderson, 2007).  Local resistance seemed to be voiced only from afar, by refugees living in new countries and not by locals still enduring the conflict. Local resistance forces were incredibly difficult to locate, possibly because it is too dangerous for them to speak out in their current situation.

              Some international resistance has been incredibly vocal. Uhuru radio, an “online voice of international African revolution” has been one critic of the international role in the Congo’s conflict (Uhurunews.com, 2008). Many organizations exist with the intention of bringing awareness or support to the plight of the Congolese, most of them based in the “global North” (such as Friends of the Congo; Congo Global Action; Breaking the Silence; Congo Vision; Resistance Congo; Congo Church Association; Ambassador Girls Scholarship Program; among many others). It is in the “western” media, the Socialist Review, that the connection between the peace deals signed and rushed by international governments and the exploitation of resources from the Congo is mentioned. Third World Report reporter Leo Zeilig tells us that the peace deal “triggered two important processes (in the Congo). The first saw the return of some multinational companies…The second process… (saw) rebel commanders responsible for much of the killing and slaughter in the war were incorporated into the Congolese army” (Zeilig, 2006). Sixty-six international humanitarian agencies currently work in the Congo (Reuters, Who works where, 2008). These range from hunger programs to medical assistance, mostly based in the “global North”. The United Nations has sent in over 17,000 troops to help stop the violence (MONUC, 2008). They have also appointed a Special Rapporteur to do a report on the Situation of Human Rights in the DRC (APIC, 1999). Resistance is mostly informal, in the form of blogs, or “leftist” newspapers.

Conclusions

              One of the most frustrating parts of the whole situation in the Congo is separating out those who claim to be helping from those who are complicit in the crimes; often one and the same group or individual. The contradiction of the international community, which on the one hand, sends aid and support to the Congo, and, on the other, exploits its resources and ensures continuing conflict, is staggering. Congo is very much a modern-day colony of the “western” world, used and abused for what it can offer the “west”, and regarded as a backwards place beyond assistance. The “west” will keep “helping”, as long as it serves their interests; and the conflict in the Congo will keep being painted as an indigenous problem in the heart of Africa. This conflict is not an issue of ethnicities, militias or rebellions. It is a continuation of the colonial project that was started by invading Europeans so long ago. It is about extracting resources, gaining profit and power. This war continues because the truth remains shrouded in propaganda, and because the international community is ignoring the underlying causes of the conflict. This conflict must stop, and justice must begin to emerge in the DRC. Too long have these people lived in hell, and too long has the international community ignored our fellow humans’ cries for help.

             

 

 

Sources:

1)      Allen, Tim. 2006. Trial Justice: The International Criminal Court and the Lord’s Resistance Army. Zen Books. London and New York.

2)      Anderson, Stacy. September 23, 2007. Professor who survived persecution in Congo is teaching at Purchase. The Journal News. Scholars at Risk Network. http://scholarsatrisk.nyu.edu/News/Article_Detail.php?art_id=582.

3)      Anvil Mining. 2008. Sustainability. The DRC: Working in an Emerging Democracy. http://sustainability.anvilmining.com/go/sustainability/the-drc-working-in-an-emerging-democracy.

4)      APIC. April 30, 1999. Oral Presentation of Report by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Africa Action. http://www.africaaction.org/docs99/con9904.htm.

5)      Associated Press (AP). October 27, 2008. Protestors attack UN building in eastern Congo. Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081027.wcongo1027/BNStory/International/.

6)      Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). 2008. Democratic Republic of Congo. http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/democraticrepublicofcongo.

7)      Clark, Phil. Winter 2007. In the Shadow of the Volcano: Democracy and Justice in Congo. Dissent. Foundation for the Study of Independent Social Ideas. P. 29-35.

8)      Clifford, Lisa. September 25, 2007. Plan to Flush LRA Out of DRC “Recipe for Impunity”/Military-Court Trials Worry Rights Activists. The Passion of the Present. http://platform.blogs.com/passionofthepresent/2007/09/plan-to-flush-l.html. (blog by reporter for The Hague).

9)      Cobalt Development Institute. 2008. Sources of Cobalt. http://www.thecdi.com/general.php?r=E6EM5BQBAL

10)  Cowan, Paul. 2005. The Peacekeepers. National Film Board of Canada, 13 Production, and ARTE France. (Film)

11)  Dallaire, Romeo. March 14, 2008. A Leading Middle Power Goes AWOL From Darfur. The Toronto Star. http://www.thestar.com/article/345880.

12)  Dizolele, Mvemba Phezo. August 8, 2007. In Search of Congo’s Coltan. Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting. http://www.pulitzercenter.org/openitem.cfm?id=529

13)  Encyclopedia of the Nations. 2008. Congo, DRC. Foreign Investment. http://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/Africa/Congo-Democratic-Republic-of-the-DROC-FOREIGN-INVESTMENT.html.

14)  Essick, Kristi; Boslet, Mark; and Grondahl, Boris. June 11, 2001. A Call to Arms- demand for Coltan causes problems in Congo- Industry Trend or Event. The Industry Standard.  http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0HWW/is_23_4/ai_75669917/pg_2

15)  Essick, Krisit. June 11, 2001. Guns, Money and Cell Phones. The Industry Standard. http://www.globalissues.org/article/442/guns-money-and-cell-phones.

16)  Faul, Michelle. October 30, 2008. Congolese Soldiers Retreat from Rebels. The Globe and Mail. A18.

17)  Faul, Michelle. November 3, 2008. Hungry Congo refugees get soap but no food. The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/Page/document/v5/content/subscribe?user_URL=http://www.theglobeandmail.com%2Fservlet%2Fstory%2FRTGAM.20081103.wcongo1103%2FBNStory%2Fenergy%2F&ord=2735740&brand=theglobeandmail&force_login=true.

18)  Faul, Michelle. November 8, 2008. Angolans join Congolese soldiers to battle rebels. The Globe and Mail. A20.

19)  Goar, Carol. November 10, 2008. Familiar horror engulfs Congo. The Toronto Star. http://www.thestar.com/article/533207.

20)  Global Policy Forum. 2008. UN Finance. http://www.globalpolicy.org/finance/index.htm.

21)  The Globe and Mail. August 12, 2008. First Quantum Profit Jumps. Report on Business.

22)  Human Rights Watch (HRW). August 22, 2008. Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child for Period Review of the DRC. Human Rights News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/08/22/congo19671.htm.

23)  Human Rights Watch (HRW). November 7, 2008. DR Congo: Civilians Under Attack Need Urgent Protection. Human Rigths News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/11/07/congo20158.htm.

24)  Human Rights Watch (HRW). November 6, 2008. DR Congo: New Attacks on Civilians. Human Rights News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/11/06/congo20150.htm.

25)  Human Rights Watch (HRW). October 30, 2008. DR Congo: International Leaders Should Act Now to Protect Civilians. Human Rights News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/10/30/congo20107.htm.

26)  Human Rights Watch (HRW). September 25, 2008. DR Congo: Humanitarian Crisis Deepens as Peace Process Falters. Human Rights News. http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/09/24/congo19881.htm.

27)  IANS. October 30, 2008. Army concerned at attacks on Indian peacekeepers in Congo. Thaindian News. http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/army-concerned-at-attacks-on-indian-peacekeepers-in-congo_100113201.html.

28)  International Criminal Court (ICC). January 2004. Situation in Democratic Republic of the Congo. http://www.icc-cpi.int/cases/RDC.html.

29)  International Rescue Committee (IRC). December 9, 2004. IRC Study Reveals 31,000 Die Monthly in Congo Conflict and 3.8 Million Died in Past Six Years. When Will the World Pay Attention? http://www.theirc.org/news/irc_study_reveals_31000_die_monthly_in_congo_conflict_and_38_million_died_in_past_six_years_when_will_the_world_pay_attention.html.

30)  Ismi, Asad and Schwartz, Kristin. April 2007. The World Social Forum in Nairobi: African Activists Lead Resistance to Western Plundering and Imperialism. CCPA Monitor. www.policyalternatives.ca.

31)  Kimberly Process. 2008. What is the Kimberly Process? http://www.kimberleyprocess.com/.

32)  MONUC. 2008. Democratic Republic of the Congo- MONUC-Facts and Figures. UN DPKO. http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/missions/monuc/facts.html.

33)  Natural Resources Canada (NRC). 2008. Mining-Specific Tax Provisions. http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/miningtax/d_inv_2d2_taxcredit2000.htm.

34)  Nolen, Stephanie. October 18, 2008. Rape again rampant in Congo. The Globe and Mail. A22.

35)  Nolen, Stephanie. October 29, 2008. How rebels profit from blood and soil. The Globe and Mail. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081024.wcongo1025/BNStory/International/

36)  Reuters. 2008. Who works where. Thomson Reuters Foundation. Alert Net. http://www.alertnet.org/thepeople/whowhatwhere.htm?fb_emergencycodes=ZR_CON&fb_membnetcombocodes=all&fb_countrycodes=214383&x=37&y=11.

37)  Reuters. June 11, 2008. Congo (DR) Conflict. Thomson Reuters Foundation. AlertNet. http://www.alertnet.org/db/crisisprofiles/ZR_CON.htm.

38)  Snow, Keith Harmon and Barouski, David. March 1, 2006. Behind the Numbers: Untold Suffering in the Congo. http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Africa/Congo_BehindNumbers.html.

39)  Staples, Steven. October 2006. Marching Orders: How Canada abandoned peacekeeping- and why the UN needs us now more than ever. The Council of Canadians. http://www.canadians.org/peace/issues/Marching_Orders/index.html.

40)  Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center (TIC). “Coltan”, 2007, found at: http://www.tanb.org/tantalum1.html.

41)  Transparency International. 2008. Corruption Perceptions Index. http://www.transparency.org/news_room/in_focus/2008/cpi2008/cpi_2008_table.

42)  UhuruRadio.com. November 1, 2008. African Students Demand an End to Imperialst-Driven War in the Congo. Indymedia. http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2008/11/01/18547873.php.

43)  Uhurunews.com. 2008. Online Voice of the International African Revolution. Burning Spear Publications. http://uhurunews.com/.

44)  UN. December 10, 1948. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. General Assembly resolution 217 A (III). http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html.

45)  UNHCR- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. November 20, 1989 .Convention on the Rights of the Child. http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/k2crc.htm.

46)  United Nations Security Council. 2002. Report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and other Forms of Wealth in the Congo. http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/DRC%20S%202002%201146.pdf.

47)  United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. 2006. FDI Indices. http://www.unctad.org/Templates/Page.asp?intItemID=2468&lang=1.

48)  Ware, Natalie D. December, 2001. Congo War and the Role of Coltan. Inventory of Conflict and Environment (ICE) Case Studies. http://www.american.edu/ted/ice/congo-coltan.htm.

49)  World Bank (WB). March 9, 2006. Republic of Congo Reaches Decision Point Under the Enhanced HIPC Debt Relief Initiative. Press Release Number 2006/301/AFR. http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTDEBTDEPT/0,,contentMDK:20847652~menuPK:64166657~pagePK:64166689~piPK:64166646~theSitePK:469043,00.html.

50)  World Bank (WB). April 2008. The Republic of Congo: Trade Brief. World Trade Indicators 2008. http://info.worldbank.org/etools/wti2008/docs/brief45.pdf.

51)  Winter, Mark. 2008. Uses of Cobalt. WebElements. http://www.webelements.com/cobalt/uses.html.

[1] I use this term lightly, since I believe Joseph Kabila was only trying to secure more voters and power for himself and not actually interested in peace. This is the term Reuters used to describe the events.

[2] For example there are less than 500 km of paved roads in the DRC (Clark, 2007; 32). The DRC is also home to an incredibly corrupt government and civil service, with a corruption perceptions index ranking of 171st out of 180 countries in the world (Transparency International, 2008).

[3] This includes laptop computers, cellular phones, jet engines, rockets, cutting tools, camera lenses, X-ray film, ink jet printers, hearing aids, pacemakers, airbag protection systems, ignition and motor control modules, GPS, ABS systems in automobiles, game consoles such as Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo, video cameras, digital still cameras, sputtering targets, chemical process equipment, cathodic protection systems for steel structures such as bridges, water tanks, prosthetic devices for humans – hips, plates in the skull, also mesh to repair bone removed after damage by cancer, suture clips, corrosion resistant fasteners, screws, nuts, bolts, high temperature furnace parts, high temperature alloys for air and land based turbines, gas turbine parts, and strong permanent magnets. It is also used as a pigment in pottery, glass enamels and paints, varnishes and printing inks, among other things. It also includes anything with the alloy alnico, or Cobalt 60, which is a commercial source of high energy radiation used to destroy cancerous tissue or detect flaws in metal parts (TIC, 2007; Winter, 2008).

 

[4] Over a 90 day period, there were 118 stories about the Congo and more than 200 stories each about Iraq and Afghanistan in the Globe and Mail. There were 87 stories about the Congo while there were more than 500 each for Iraq and Afghanistan in the National Post. There were 37 stories about the Congo, 141 stories about Afghanistan, and 88 stories about Iraq in The Toronto Star. This was replicated in major international publications such as the Economist, which had only 28 stories about the Congo, 144 stories about Iraq, and 91 stories about Afghanistan for the same period (The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Star, The Economist, August- November 2008).



Bookmark and Share

Update on the conflict free-laptop search

So I’m incredibly frustrated.

I have received emails back. After several hours on the phone, getting hung up on and redirected, I am sent some information by email. I have talked to the people whose job it is to secure ethical purchasing (or at least market it) and they are the ones sending the information; so I am hopeful that I will receive answers. I am at this point with several companies.

What they send however, is the same old stock line. I already had most of this information (if not all of it). It is available publicly on their websites, and was already thoroughly researched and looked into– but didn’t answer my questions. In fact, most of my time in this struggle has been spent reading through websites, news, etc. trying to find out the details before I bother calling so that I can ask specific questions once I find who I need to talk to. Digging into sourcing is difficult!

The same stock lines. They don’t seem really willing to give out any more information. I’m sure it must have to clear some board room or get approval first.  Heaven forbid they just tell me the truth (though more than likely, they probably have NO idea what this is themselves). I cannot, in good faith, purchase any of these products at this point. Their claims to me are not enough. Their promise of change in the future is not enough. They might still support human rights abuse. They might still support war. It’s hard to tell the truth.

I’m glad that many advertise themselves as ethical and feel like they are making a real effort to change. Some perhaps are. But most I would suspect, are not. They spew out these fancy claims of responsibility and have NO idea what’s really going on in their own product line. They are taking miniscule steps, and sometimes not even that.

This mess of being disconnected happened over time.  It will take time to fix it, it just won’t happen overnight. I realise this. But with no real regulations in place yet to enforce the “rules” against human rights abuses- don’t expect much to really happen. Some companies may really strive to make change, but many others will do the bare minimum to make themselves more marketable and continue to abuse because it is easier to just do nothing. Where does the abuse stop?

I don’t think there is anyone out there (aside from maybe a few people with some severe mental issues) who would willingly want to commit these abuses with their purchases. But we are often left with little choice, or are led to believe marketing propaganda or ethical claims. So why does this continue to happen?

Admitting you are part of the evil is the first step. This does take courage.  Auditing your suppliers is the next. Taking action to stop the abuses and use non-abusing suppliers is the next step. Incorporating a strategic business policy that will prevent human rights abuses as much as humanly possible– this should be legislated.

I am in the process of making up more detailed questions to send back to the companies, about their continuing abuses and how they are planning to stop it in the future. Hopefully I will get more than the same old stock line this time. Hopefully I will get one step closer to the truth.


Bookmark and Share

Popularization of issues

We are bombarded with images, stories, news, and new information at an alarming rate. How do we handle this information? How can we possibly comprehend the full magnitude of everything we are learning?

We take what we know, and react to it based on our previous experiences and education. We try to address the problem in the only way we know how. Some people try to tackle the whole thing, some try small pieces, some give up and ignore the problem, and some don’t see a problem to start with.

Sometimes we focus in on just one issue at the expense of others. We attach ourselves to some cause, or one issue and think that by this one action we can try and make a difference. It is too hard to comprehend the whole issue. Besides, it is next to impossible to know all the factors; all we can do is make educated decisions based on our personal knowledge. It is so hard to know what to really do in a situation. Who to trust. What’s the “right” thing to do? There are only so many hours in the day. There is only so much that is really humanly possible.

We often don’t take into account the cultural realities or other factors that might be important in our actions. We hear, for example, we should go “green” to be environmentally friendly. So we buy “green” products only to find out they are not that “green” after all and may be quite damaging to the environment. Or that we are a hypocrite in some other way. You can’t win, eventually everyone’s a hypocrite on some level.

Or we give to a charity and find out that over half our donation went to things we may not agree with. Where are the regulations? Who’s tracking which companies and nonprofit organizations are really doing what they say they’re doing? Are there even laws in place to regulate to stop human rights abuses in a product line or service if they are happening half way around the world? How are these laws enforced and what are the punishments?

Abuse= heavy sentence. Murder= heavy sentence. Pre-meditated murder= very heavy sentence. Pre-meditated mass murder/abuse for profit= no sentence or white collar sentence? No law/regulation even to charge them on?  Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

We need to get to the root of the problems, and find out what motivates the main players in a conflict to be violent or abusing. Is it money? Is this money coming from mines or other resources? Then we need to stop buying these resources. Cut off the money, the power, and the prestige, and you cut off most of the motivation.

It is great to make regulations, rules and organizations, but if there is little search into the root of the actual problems and whether the “solution” is actually working over time, nothing will really change. In fact, it will probably only spur more anger and frustration at the injustice that might still be remaining. This becomes another motivation to violent conflict.

Many human rights abuses are for the most part also considered as crimes in the much of the international and national legal systems. Yet much of what we use and consume may in fact be human rights abusing of the highest degree. What we use may be causing murder and war in other places. The companies and governments are telling us that they are ethical and looking out for our best interest, but are they really? Why is this allowed to go on?

If a system allows companies to be so disconnected from their product line that plunder, human rights abuses and destruction are allowed to occur so frequently, there is little social trust. There is little connection to anything. How can a company not know what goes into its products? If they don’t know– who does? Why is the onus to find out on the consumer? We are not even entitled to know about the details of the product line or service for competition reasons. Shouldn’t we be able to trust their claims?

Social trust is important for a thriving civil society, or so the experts say. And so often we focus on the group building and the identity construction and the non-profit organizations that address the manifestations of inequity.  We create associations, unions and other groups to help bridge the gap and build trust among society. But we need more. We need to know that we can trust our systems. That they are not failing us and that there are not unjust structures posing under a humanitarian veneer.

If our systems are breaking this trust because they are inequitable or unfair, grouping and focusing on only one issue or cause will only separate us further. There is still a need for grouping, but it is time to also come together. It is time to stand up against all injustices; to not allow ourselves to be human rights abusers through our purchases and through our everyday practices. Is it hard? It most definitely is. Do you have to change your entire life today? Absolutely not.

Keep using the products you are using until they are finished; if you throw them out now– it is only going in the garbage anyway. It may as well be used. But become aware and ask the corporations and services you use whether they support human rights abuses or not. If they don’t know, send one email (or one a day, or week, or month) until they get the picture. Consider switching brands and switch to more conscious brands or don’t use brands at all.

Send an email or letter or phonecall to your government asking for more stringent regulations on human rights abusing product lines and services.

Take a little more effort when you buy a product to find out whether they can ensure they are not supporting human rights abuses and what they are doing to maintain that.

Use less. Ask yourself do you really need to buy that before you purchase something? If it’s absolutely yes, than buy it. But if it’s maybe or no, hold off. If possible cut down each time you use the product. Do what feels right to you.

But definitely, and above all else, educate yourself and be conscious of what you are using. It took a lot to get here.


Bookmark and Share