Celebrities, Lawmakers Promote ‘Conflict Minerals’ Campaign

Hollywood stars and U.S. lawmakers are lending support to a growing movement to end the use of “conflict minerals” in electronics products. The goal is to raise the issue’s profile so that consumers, many of whom remain uninformed about the subject, will throw their buying power behind it.

By putting pressure on corporations to rid their supply chains of these minerals, organizers hope to cut off funding that helps prolong fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) — one of the world’s worst conflicts resulting in ongoing rights abuses.

Mary Louise Parker, Saffron Burrows, Sandra Oh and Ryan Gosling are just some of the celebrities who have lent their public support for the campaign, appearing in YouTube videos for The Enough Project, a rights group aimed at building a permanent movement against genocide and crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is considering a bill that would oblige companies to track and identify the sourcing of their minerals, and require the State Department to closely monitor the financing of armed groups in the DRC.

In late 2008, the United Nations passed two resolutions aimed at curbing the use of conflict minerals by expanding its peacekeeping force’s mandate to include monitoring the relation between mineral mining and groups benefitting from the trade, and approving sanctions against those found to be fueling the conflict.

In the last decade, an estimated 5.4 million people have lost their lives in the DRC. Rape as a weapon of war is being used at such an unprecedented level — both in the number of incidents and the scale of brutality — that even the most hardened medical and humanitarian workers have been left shocked and sickened.

Mining and the sale of minerals — including tin (cassiterite), tantalum (coltan or columbite-tantalite), and tungsten (wolframite) — funds the conflict, say aid groups and the U.N. The financial incentives from the trade in turn fuel a vicious cycle of violence to control the valuable resources. The annual sales of tin alone amount to $85 million, according to campaigners.

The conflict minerals are used in mobile phones, laptop computers, global positioning systems and a number of other electronics products used every day by hundreds of millions of consumers around the globe. The notion that buying such devices can contribute directly to one of the world’s most deadly and brutal ongoing conflicts would seem an easy sell to a public predisposed to despise such obvious brutality. Yet human rights campaigners have been plugging away for years, trying to raise an international public outcry against the practice.

In the last few months the campaign has gained momentum, driven in part, campaigners say, by the election of U.S. President Barack Obama and hopes that Africa’s prolife would gain prominence during his administration.