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2010-10-26

Conflict Minerals--5 Million Killed in the DRC for your Cell Phone

The ruthless acquisition of commodities--things like sugar, diamonds, oil--has often been a cause of unthinkable human suffering. Indeed, the three commodities I just listed all have histories rife with slavery, oppression and exploitation. Fortunately, the development of the idea of human rights which culminated in the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights as well as the corresponding structures of national and international law designed to protect those rights have significantly reduced the human suffering associated with many of the commodities our global economy depends on.

Of course there are many areas in our world where horrific human right's violations still exist. This is nowhere more tragic than when human rights abuses are the means by which commodities are obtained. The sad reality is that politically unstable areas where the legal structures are fragile or non-existent due to war and conflict are often highly "profitably" for commodity extraction. Think about it: unstable areas by definition have little or no legal structures: no environmental protection regulations to follow, no human rights legislation to obey, no taxes to pay. "Profit" can be maximized.

Take the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for example. The eastern part of the DRC is extremely resource rich. This fact has encouraged rebel groups like the Lord's Resistance Army (infamous for it's horrific violence in Uganda brought to light by the Invisible Children movement) as well as corrupt local and federal governments to perpetuate regional conflict in order to accelerate the extraction of commodities like tin, tungsten and tantalum. These three minerals fetch a high price on the world market today because they are used in the production of electronics like laptops and cell phones. And here's the kicker: in the past 15 years, while Congo has become the world's number five producer of tantalum, more than FIVE MILLION people have been murdered and the region has been labeled the "rape capital of the world" by the United Nations. That's right. The cell phone you call your boyfriend on and the laptop you're reading this with may have been built using materials obtained through widespread rape and murder in the DRC.

Situations like this are fiercely complicated. There is no easy solution, and it will take a coordinated effort from the the international community to stem the conflict in the region and empower the people of Congo to rebuild their lives. One hopeful step in this direction is the United States' Financial Reform Bill signed into law on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 by President Obama. This new legislation will require all US manufacturers to disclose what steps they are taking to ensure that the raw materials they use are not "conflict minerals" from the DRC. You can read more about this legislation in the Washington Post article here.

Ultimately this is a small but significant step in the direction of eradicating the trade of conflict minerals within our global economy. Much more must be done from both the macro perspective of the international legislative scene as well as the micro decisions we all make as consumers. Nevertheless, as people longing for God's coming kingdom wherein the "oppressed will go free" (Luke 4:18-19), we can rejoice in this aspect of the Financial Reform Bill and pray that its impact is speedily felt.

Grace and Peace.

-Mike





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