Remember the Congo? No? I can’t really blame you, the problems plaguing Africa’s third biggest country have not – as far as I know – made headlines (at least in mainstream media) in a very long time. And yet, there’s been an ongoing conflict there since 1998 that has made, according to the latest reports by the International Rescue Committee approximatively 5 million casualties, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II. In addition to these casualties, the conflict has displaced another million people.
So why talk about it now? It’s a wrong question. The right question would have been: why have we stopped talking about it? But that has changed recently, thanks to New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof and the people over at the Center for American Progress’ Enough! Project.
Nicholas Kristof – probably one of the best journalists to be working at the New York Times – has published on 26 June 2010 a column on how our electronic gadgets – whether phones, ipods or computers – fuel the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Apparently, certain components in our electronics come from minerals coming out of Congo and that helps finance the conflict and warlords over there. As Nicholas Kristof writes, ““Blood diamonds” have faded away, but we may now be carrying “blood phones.”“
Today, electronic companies such as for example Apple are particularly under the pressure of activists trying to raise awareness on this issue that concerns all of us modern gadget-freaks.
At the tip of the spear of this campaign against tainted electronic manufacturing is the Enough! Project of the Center for American Progress. These people have already been remarkably active on raising awareness of the situation in Sudan and Darfur, and have now turned their sights towards the issue of conflict-fueling electronics components with a campaign baptized “RAISE Hope for Congo.” One part of their campaign is a “spoof” video imitating one of the famous “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” Apple commercials. It is definitely worth watching:
This video is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the most brilliant campaign broadcast I have ever watched. It gets it message across in a compelling and effective way, using a well-known format (the Apple commercials) to reach the audience in a slightly entertaining (but not too much) way.
Feeling the pressure, Apple’s Steve Jobs has addressed the issue in an email exchange with a concerned customer, claiming that although Apple asks its providers to certify that the minerals are conflict-free, it is impossible to be sure. Of course, the people over at Enough! Project beg to disagree, and sent an email themselves to Steve Jobs (on that matter, I wonder where everybody finds Steve Jobs’ email address. Not that I’ve been looking very hard myself.)
So what is to be done on this issue? As consumers of electronic devices, it is our responsibility to make sure that the gadgets we buy are built with conflict-free components. What was done with blood diamonds a few years ago must be done with gadgets today. See Enough’s Take Action webpage for more ideas.
On his blog, Nicholas Kristof concludes:
My hope is that public pressure will shame the electronics companies into scrubbing their supply chains of blood minerals, providing a bit more pressure that creates some space for a broader peace drive in Congo. And if the price is a penny in the price of a cell phone — sure sounds worth it to me.
I could not agree more.