Readers of this blog will know that more than 5 million people have died as a result of conflict between armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Yet it is hard to really understand what that means. It is the population of Greater Toronto – all dead in just fifteen years. The conflict has also resulted in the highest incidence of rape in the world, with many armed groups employing rape as a weapon of war against women and girls. And it has caused a displacement crisis, with countless people fleeing their homes and becoming refugees.
What’s happening in the Congo is wrong. We can’t always right a wrong. But this time, we absolutely can.
The conflict is fueled and funded in large part by minerals: tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. These are minerals that we use every day – in cellphones, tin cans, light bulbs, and jewelry.
More than half of all mines (and all but one major mine) in the eastern Congo are controlled by armed groups. These minerals literally keep some armed groups in business.
That is why I am proposing the Conflict Minerals Act. This act would require Canadian companies to exercise due diligence before and while exploiting and trading minerals from the Congo and the surrounding region, to ensure that no armed groups engaged in illegal activities have benefited from the extraction, processing, or use of those minerals.
Virtually all of the main tech companies – from Blackberry to Microsoft, and from Apple to Nokia – are already starting to take steps to avoid using conflict minerals in their products. In May 2011, the OECD adopted guidelines and a supporting recommendation regarding corporate due diligence. In August 2012, the American Securities Exchange Commission announced new rules requiring companies to demonstrate due diligence in their use of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold.
I believe that Canadians don’t want to have conflict minerals in their homes. They want to be able to choose products that don’t fund war. Canadians deserve to make that choice. But in order to choose, Canadians must know the truth about what they’re buying. Companies need to tell Canadians if the minerals in their products fund war. Canadians have the right to know if a cellphone or necklace is fueling conflict. And then they have the right to choose for themselves.
We can all play a role in ending conflict. One way is to take conflict out of the things we buy. Together, we have the power to make a better world. You can start now by signing the online petition supporting Bill C-486, liking our campaign on Facebook, and following us on Twitter.
Minerals may be everywhere, but conflict doesn’t have to be. Together, we can take conflict out of Canadian homes – and, in doing so, out of the Congo.
Paul Dewar is the Canadian Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre and the Foreign Affairs Critic for the NDP Official Opposition. He recently introduced Bill C-486, the Conflict Minerals Act, which would require Canadian companies to exercise public due diligence in sourcing minerals from the Great Lakes Region of Africa.