Although we live in a country that seems far removed from the African continent, the consumer electronics we regularly buy (laptops, cell phones, etc.) connect us to an unrelenting and decades-long war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The two past wars and continuing violence in the DRC have resulted in the deaths of over 6 million people since 1996, making it the deadliest conflict in the world since the Second World War. In addition, over a million Congolese are internally displaced and face chronic malnutrition, disease, poverty, and violence. One of the sources of conflict is the abundance of valuable minerals and metals in the country’s eastern provinces, including tin, tungsten, tantalum, copper, and gold.
These minerals and metals are essential to the production of our electronics products. Because they are so valuable, armed groups throughout the country use violence against local civilians to maintain ownership of them. In turn, foreign mining companies must engage in trade and negotiations with the armed groups in command of the territory, thereby providing them with millions of dollars and the resources required to continue the conflict. In this way, WE, as consumers of the finished products, inadvertently finance the purchase of arms and other supplies that help fuel the ongoing violence and instability in the DRC; the connection is clear and undeniable.
Although this might be news to Canadian consumers, companies involved in this process are aware of the association between their practices and conflict minerals, whether they own the mines or manufacture the electronics products. For years, non-governmental organizations have campaigned against conflict minerals and demanded accountability and transparency from any company involved in the extraction, refinement, and manufacturing processes. In 2011, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) established guidelines that advocate the practice of due diligence and responsible global supply chains in conflict regions.
Several governments throughout the world, including the American government, have passed legislation in support of these guidelines. Isn’t it time Canada did the same? By demanding that companies source their materials ethically, trace their supply chain and publicize their production process, Canadian consumers will have the ability to make informed purchases, purchases that will not fuel violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Together, we must demand a Conflict-Free Canada.