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DRC Conflict Minerals Target of New Campaign

A new campaign has been launched to end the purchase of so-called conflict minerals, which are being mined by armed groups in the eastern DRC. The minerals are used in electronic equipment, such as cell phones.

The ENOUGH Project at the Center for American Progress is behind the campaign. It says the illegal mining operations raise money to buy weapons and fuel the ongoing violence in the DRC, including widespread sexual violence. John Prendergast, co-founder of the ENOUGH Project, spoke in Washington to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the campaign.

"It turns out the purchases of our laptops and cell phones and MP3 players, digital cameras, all these different electronics products, have inside them minerals that are sourced in the Congo that provide the fuel for the deadliest war in the world. We want to do exactly what happened with the blood diamonds campaign," he says.

The campaign takes its message directly to the companies manufacturing the electronics products. Prendergast says, "We want to lean on the corporations to stop their purchasing practices that actually incite further conflict, incite worse violence against women and girls. And we want the companies to clean up their purchasing practices so that they only buy minerals from countries and places and mines which are not producing conflict. So, basically, free cell phones and laptops."

The campaign also calls on consumers to contact manufacturers, asking them to change their mineral purchasing practices.

Asked what measures could be taken to ensure the minerals do not come from the eastern DRC, Prendergast says, "It just requires some spot checking. It requires commitment by the industry to say, ok, we're not going to purchase if the mine of origin is actually a source of conflict. There are independent supply chain audits…. And the United Nations has mapped a number of the worst mines where the violence is greatest."

Prendergast thinks the new auditing procedures could be put into effect within a year and a half.

The ENOUGH Project strategy paper says, "Electronics companies and consumers genuinely do not appreciate the complex chain of events that tie the widespread sexual violence in the Congo with the minerals that power cell phones, laptops, MP3 players, video games and digital cameras." Prendergast says the reason is that "it's a relatively new phenomenon. It's the same learning curve many people had with the blood diamonds in Sierra Leone. Most people didn't realize 10 or 15 years ago that their purchases of diamonds were actually fueling some of the worst violence in the world in Sierra Leone…and we're learning the details of it ourselves and sharing it with consumers here so that they can be more knowledgeable."

Prendergast also says there are other sources of minerals for digital electronics equipment. "The good news is there are lots of other countries that do. It may be a penny cheaper, but the good news is with all three of these minerals – tin, tungsten and tantalum, as well as with gold – there are many other suppliers. So the industry can go to alternatives."