Genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The computer you read this from.

Can you spot the link?

The Conflict Free Campus Initiative (CFCI) has been growing gradually at the University of Glasgow since GU Amnesty International took on the campaign two years ago, however many people are in the dark about the bloodshed that fuels our technology habit.

The CFCI calls for regulation of minerals used by large Western technology manufacturers, bought from mines in the war-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa, as the war there has dominated the country’s landscape since the early 1990s.

The International Rescue Committee estimated that 5.4 million fatalities have occurred as a result since 1996. Rape is used as a weapon of control over the population and children are involved in fighting from a young age. The UN ranked the country bottom of its Human Development Index in 2012.

The statistics are staggering for a conflict which receives such little media coverage. We rely on such countries for minerals such as gold, tungsten, tantalum, and the ores that produce tin, but it is arrmed rebels groups, domestic and foreign, that pillage the land’s natural resources then sell them on to large corporations. It is a lack of transparency in the production line means that consumers of products such as phones and laptops remain ignorant.

As university students, we spend millions of pounds cumulatively on technology, but no one involved in the CFCI is asking the library to send its computers to the dump. Sourcing products from companies that check and regulate their supply chains would encourage other companies to do the same.

CFCI simply calls for university policy to prioritise the increasing number of companies who have expressed concern and acted on the matter, when buying products from now on. Intel and HP are leaders in this field and just recently Apple have resolved to investigate their supply chain for conflict-related atrocities.

Raise Hope for Congo, the Enough campaign which started up the initiative, says: “Comprehensive reform is needed in Congo to bring about sustainable peace – the time is now for students to lead the conflict-free movement for peace in Congo.”

In March, four members of the Glasgow University chapter of Amnesty International, including myself, attended a meeting with David Newall, Secretary of Court for the University, and Jo Gallagher, Head of Procurement.

Ruth Brown, our President, said it was frustratingly similar to the meeting she had with him on the subject this time last year.  Gallagher emphasised that the university does not take full responsibility for the sourcing of materials, as this goes through a framework of guidelines decided by the umbrella group APUC, which is governed by EU regulations.Ultimately, she said that she would enquire whether the APUC currently have a system of due diligence and corporate responsibility.

Newall’s two issues seem to be as follows: that the university must not discriminate unfairly against companies or breach contractual obligations in its procurement policy and that the university cannot make political statements as an institution. His excuse for unresponsiveness was that conflict minerals are “not important enough” from the university’s perspective.

Similar to CFCI is the movement calling for the divestment of fossil fuels, and the issue is yet to be brought to university court. This campaign is being viewed in terms of ethical and sustainable development – as should CFCI. Why is the university comfortable to tacitly fund genocide via procurement, instead of making a political statement against it?

Both Newall and Gallagher’s arguments implied that a top-down approach is the only way to push the university towards change, though the meeting showed a feeling of discomfort and unawareness when joining the discussion on conflict minerals. It is understandable to want to avoid making bold statements which they are unable to follow up with action, however, willingness to look into possible action would be welcome.

To close the meeting, Amnesty International handed over the petition for a conflict-free campus resolution, which has been circulated on campus and collected over 400 signatures since 2012.

Support for Congo is making progress worldwide, as more companies are recognising the conflict and their corporate responsibility, with the EU voting on bringing in guidance for responsible companies relating to conflict minerals later this year. The success that campuses such as Ohio and Exeter have seen is inspiring.

Current VP of Student Activities and in-coming SRC President, Breffni O’Connor’s enthusiasm was crucial in getting the draft motion of support for CFCI passed during a meeting of the council in April. There is also a plan to form an inter-society coalition, which, with enough interest, will start up in the next academic year.

The bureaucracy may seem improbable to break through, but with knowledge and campaigning we have to try. Call for a conflict-free Glasgow!

Sign the petition athttp://bit.ly/GUConflictFree

[Ellen MacAskill]

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