The introduction of the Conflict Minerals Trade Act of 2009 in the United States House of Representatives today marks a critical milestone in the ongoing effort to make the use of conflict minerals in our electronics products a thing of the past. The minerals in our cell phones and electronics continue to fuel the brutal conflict in eastern Congo, the world's deadliest war since World War II. More than five million people have died and an epidemic of rape has made Congo the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman or a girl.
If passed, this bill would institute a system of audits and regulations that would prohibit companies from importing conflict minerals into the United States, thereby providing a critical piece of the puzzle to help stop the deadly trade in Congo's conflict minerals. Specifically, the bill targets the trade in gold and the 3 T's (tin, tungsten and tantalum) -- all essential components of our favorite electronic devices. By requiring companies which process and import these minerals to declare whether their products are conflict-free or not, the bill demands transparency and helps ensure that the mineral trade stops contributing to crimes against humanity, including killings of unarmed civilians and horrific sexual violence. Importantly, the bill also establishes mechanisms to allow the Congolese people to benefit from these resources. In the long-term, the bill would direct the United States government to develop a comprehensive strategy toward conflict minerals and support multilateral efforts to break this deadly trade.
The legislative battle is just beginning. The electronics industry has spent about 2 million dollars per month lobbying to relax similar, yet weaker, legislation in the Senate (S. 891). As consumers of electronics, we must take action to ensure passage of this bill by contacting our representatives and demanding that they sign-on as co-sponsors. Together we can help turn a system of exploitation and violence into one of peace and opportunity.
Legislation alone will not end the conflict in eastern Congo, but this bill provides a crucial step toward the creation of a practical and enforceable means to ensure that the trade in Congolese minerals contributes to peace rather than war.
I invite you to comment on this post and follow me on Twitter. To understand how conflict minerals are tied to your electronic devices check out Enough Project's new Conflict Minerals 101 video below.
John Prendergast is Co-Founder of Enough, the anti-genocide project at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.