Demand conflict-free products

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist Photo credit: Rewon Shimray

By Alison Rogers | Guest Contributor

The cell phone in your pocket could be funding atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the site of the deadliest conflict since World War II. It is estimated to have killed over 5.4 million people. But Congo is also a major source of the minerals used in cell phones, laptops and gaming systems. The companies that produce these devices are directly fueling the conflict. Armed groups coerce miners, exploit children, assault women and use our consumer money to make hundreds of millions of dollars yearly.

There are ways to prevent further atrocities by promoting clean supply chains, but companies are often unwilling to act.

College students are the target demographic for most electronics companies. If we choose to only buy products from companies that are working to become “conflict-free,” it will inspire the industry as a whole to practice responsible sourcing rather than risk losing business.

Buying conflict-free does not mean you need to give up your iPhone X, or avoid replacing your broken laptop. Some companies – like Apple, Intel and Microsoft – are already improving their supply chains. Why?

Students challenged them to do better. They chose to only purchase from companies that were working towards conflict-free products.

Flower Mound senior and Students Improving Global Health Together (SIGHT) officer Emma Weatherford explained: “We can’t engage in actions that support systems that oppress, in this case systems that are taking away what rightfully belongs to people in the Congo and selling it to fund armed groups that are terrorizing them.”

When we choose not to support oppressive systems, our actions contribute directly to company policy on ethical sourcing. I am a campus upstander for the Enough Project, a nonprofit organization that mobilizes students to join the conflict-free movement. Marissa Sandgren, the organization’s college director, spoke about the impact of student involvement.

“Over 420 mines in eastern Congo have been validated as conflict-free,” Sandgren said. “Much of this progress can be attributed to the persistence of activists, including students, who for years have urged the companies they purchase from to ensure that they source conflict-free minerals from Congo for their products.”

In other words, the actions we take can directly affect a company’s ethics. Do your part to be informed, make conscientious purchasing decisions and ask others to do the same.

Alison is a sophomore University Scholars major from Garland.