A call for rape-free cell phones:
- a draft concept note on a possible campaign
Civil society groups are concerned about gender-based violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There government forces, and other groups continued to exacerbate ethnic tensions over their competition for mineral resources, including widespread sexual violence against women. In 2005, the UN estimated that some 45,000 women were raped in South Kivu alone. It is thought that currently 1,100 women a month are raped in eastern DRC. Almost all the warring factions have used rape as a calculated method of sowing terror, often gang rape.
Beyond the prevalent fistulations, if anti-retroviral drug treatment is not begun within seventy-two hours of a rape, HIV/AIDS is often contracted. Moreover, their families, communities and even churches often shun rape survivors. KAIROS know this first hand from proposed work with Hériters de la Justice on the establishing Gender Based Violence Legal Clinic in the area to combat the impunity of sexual violence.
Conflict in the DRC is driven by the exploitation of natural resources. Militias gain control of the mines by fracturing communities with rape, using sexual violence to control slave labor. The DRC is a source for conflict minerals such as columbo-tantalite (i.e., coltan). Tin derived cassiterite is used in cell phones, laptops and computers circuit boards, and tantalum derived from coltan is a substitute for platinum and used to make highly reliable types of electrolytic capacitors contained in consumer electronics products such as cell phones, DVD players, video game systems and computers.
Cassiterite and coltan are often found together. The export of cassiterite and coltan from eastern DRC to European and North American, including Canadian, markets has been cited by experts as helping to finance the present-day conflict in the DRC, with assertions that the financing to sustain civil war in the eastern DRC is directly connected to cassiterite and coltan profits. Though the DRC is only known to produce some 4% of the world’s cassiterite the commodity prices for it have risen in recent years. By some estimates, 60-80% of the world's known coltan supply is in DRC where its exploitation is highly organized and systematic but criminal. An estimated 5.4 million people have died since 1998 in the war in the Congo.
It is unacceptable that such conflict minerals end up in Canadian consumer electronics. Not only are the minerals gathered through abusive means and slave labor, they’re also gathered where rape is used as a weapon of war in the competition for control of the mines. This mining-rape nexus has resulted in human rights groups in Western consumer countries intentionally and provocatively calling for ‘rape-free cell phones’.
While some companies like Nokia have ethical mineral sourcing practices precluding use of raw materials coming from places of conflict like the DRC, others do not. Companies like Apple, Dell or HP are working to take toxic materials out of their devices or recycling materials in their products, but not much is heard about their sourcing of the raw materials. Putting an expanded spotlight on this issue is a way to both remind consumers and companies of the need for products to be ethically and sustainably processed, and, the plight of women in eastern DRC who suffer from the consequences of conflict mineral complicity by Western, including Canadian, consumer electronic manufacturers.
A representative of Research in Motion (RIM) was requested to participate in a workshop last June at the KAIROS Gathering in Waterloo entitled “Coltan, Conflict and the Congo” but declined. KAIROS research at the time found little information of RIM raw materials sourcing policy related to the DRC.
What can be done in a campaign?
Raising awareness among consumers may be a better option than boycotting products such as RIM’s. Eastern DRC is far too poor and a boycott may be even more damaging by eliminating more livelihoods. There may be opportunities for constructive engagement with a company such as RIM to make its cassiterite and coltan sourcing transparent, putting watchdogs and surveyors at the mine sites to prevent rape, and dedicating more resources to making rape-free products.
People care about the products they use and that companies might sell more products if they tout them as built from rape-free components. The companies need to do more than just pledge. The desecration of the Congo is a desecration of us all.
Perhaps there would be a way to engage RIM technologically in the difficulty of communicating in the remote parts of Eastern DRC and, among other things, either help track exports of conflict cassiterite and coltan and or help rape victims to quickly apprise others in the area of what’s been done to them.
Consumers could be told to only buy a phone if they know it’s rape-free, she says. Consumers would likely be willing to pay more for a phone if they knew it was made from materials that were not involved in women being raped. The might even be economic opportunity for eastern DRC by selling electronic companies rape-free components.
Boycotting conflict minerals alone, will not sustain small scale, artisinal miners in eastern DRC who will be deprived of legitimate livelihoods. To be comprehensive and holistic, resources to organize and protect such miners from militias, warlords and the Congolese army must also be put in place.
Possible main objectives of a campaign
- Raise awareness of consumers within allies constituencies in Canada about the link between raw material sourcing, gender violence and their use of electronic products.
- Engage Canadian consumer electronic manufactures such as RIM to demonstrate that there are reputation and even commensurate economic gains to be made is being more transparent about their sourcing of conflict and rape-free minerals though better supply chain management.
- Engage CIDA in a discussion about how to help small scale, artisinal miners in eastern DRC to have sustainable, secure livelihoods.
Possible strategy elements of a campaign
- Engage prominent, articulate Congolese-Canadian women to speak out on the nexus between gender violence, DRC, cassiterite and coltan sourcing and cell phones and laptops.
- Seek audiences with RIM, though threatened shareholder actions if necessary, to make them aware of the nexus of gender violence, DRC and cassiterite and coltan sourcing.
- Accompany RIM executive on a study tour of eastern DRC that connects with our partners. Help RIM become part of the solution to gender violence in the DRC by both supporting programming and helping to set up an industry-monitoring project around the issue through which it can better its reputation.
- Potential allies or eventual campaign network members might include the following:
Table de concertation sur la region des grands lacs (Montréal);
Friends of the Congo, University of Toronto;
Canadian Committee for Human Rights in the Congo (Ottawa);
Abby North (UCC Bay of Quinte Conference, Lindsay Presbytery delegation to Congo);
Publish What You Pay Canada / Partnership Africa Canada;
All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity;
Canadian Committee on Women, Peace and Security (toward the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325);
Coalition for Women’s Human Rights in Conflict Situations;
Canadian Peacebuilding Co-ordinating Committee;
groups already doing shareholder actions with RIM (e.g., possibly the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, US); unions (e.g., Canadian Union for Public Employees – CUPE);
Communities and Small-Scale Mining (CASM); and
international Supply Chain Working Groups.
 A call for ‘rape free cell phone’ has been made by among others Eve Ensler,
“Vagina Monologues” creator, and founder of V-Day, a global movement to end
violence against women and girls.
A case study on an emerging issue and
How an action movement may develop
Corporate social responsibility:
Use of boycott for economic and political pressure
Potential network members: (see above)
How do you maintain and strengthen your network; what is its main strength/reason for success?
- Ask the network to take action and report back;
- Keep network updated;
- Disseminate experiences and success stories
- Cell phones are a relevant, accessible, high profile issue
What is the main movement/trend toward social change that you see coming ahead relating to your cause?
- More consumer behaviour action (rather than purely political);
- More tangible activisim
How do you link to and work with other networks for that cause? especially Africa-Canada or South/North solidarity/partnerships?
- Provide PWYP/Canada (Publish What you Pay) with a specific consumer action
- PWYP/Canada - PWYP/DRC
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