02/12/2015 05:26 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2015

This Valentine's Day: Get Engaged With Congo, Break Up With Conflict Gold

Hey, I'm getting engaged!

But not in the way you're thinking. I'm not out ring shopping, but this engagement does have something to do with gold and jewelry. I'm getting engaged in an effort to help support peace in a beautiful but war-ravaged land.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the richest countries on the planet in terms of natural resources. A string of gold mines at the edge of the Great Rift Valley in eastern Congo is an especially valuable national treasure. But instead of generating prosperity and livelihoods, that treasure is being stolen and used to fuel the deadliest war since World War II, with over 5.4 million lives lost over the last two decades.

Today, an array of violent armed groups and army commanders in Congo are illegally mining and smuggling gold on a major scale, aided and abetted by illicit traders in neighboring Uganda and Burundi. The profits from this shadowy trade are supporting terrible violence against the Congolese people: war crimes and crimes against humanity, including mass killings, sexual violence, the abduction and conscription of children as soldiers and the devastation of entire villages and communities.

Despite the challenges, progress is possible. Hard work and legislation have already resulted in 74 percent of miners of tantalum, tin and tungsten, three other major Congolese conflict minerals, now working at conflict-free mines.

Now it is gold's turn. With positive action by companies and consumers, this precious mineral can contribute to peace and prosperity in Congo. Jewelry companies -- the largest end-users of gold worldwide -- can commit to source from conflict-free gold mines in Congo, and invest in the sustainable development of local communities. In doing so, gold profits that currently fund warlords and violent groups can be restored to the rightful owners: Congolese citizens and communities working together for a peaceful, prosperous future.

There are already conflict-free mining projects of other minerals run by electronics companies like Motorola Solutions, so gold would be the next step. Jewelers are not the only solution, and more work must be done by the U.S. government, the European Union, Congo and regional governments. But jewelers and consumers like us can play important roles.

With Valentine's Day approaching, you might be thinking about what gift of jewelry you can give that special someone that perfectly expresses your love. Consider, too, how that gift can support peace -- what it represents from mine to maker -- and make Congo's future a part of that decision.

Is there hope we can really make a difference? Yes, there is. Just last year, we still weren't sure if companies were listening. But today, we know that some of the most legendary names in the jewelry world are starting to get engaged with conflict-free gold from Congo. With the support of concerned organizations like the Enough Project, Signet Jewelers (parent company of Jared, Kay and Zales) and Tiffany & Co. are leading the way toward a conflict-free Congo gold trade. A handful of other companies -- Cartier, JC Penney and Target -- have also taken important initial steps.

This journey has just begun. You can get engaged in a very simple way, by supporting those leading companies this Valentine's Day and throughout the year, and letting your favorite jeweler know you want them to make the commitment, too. And one day, when you give or receive a piece of jewelry produced with conflict-free Congo gold, you'll know it is contributing to ending the world's deadliest war.

This is an engagement that will last.

Look who else is getting engaged -- watch the video
To learn more and get engaged, visit