In a hard-hitting segment last night, 60 Minutes highlighted the role of gold in fueling Congo's deadly war in which hundreds of thousands of women have been raped and over 5 million people have died.
In addition to highlighting the hidden cost of the gold and other conflict minerals used in our jewelry, cell phones, and electronics, the segment detailed the Central African players and forces involved on the ground.
In a hidden camera encounter with a trader in Uganda, the 60 Minutes crew demonstrated the ease with which conflict minerals can be smuggled and traded. The episode pointed out that in 2007, Uganda itself produced about $500 worth of gold, but actually exported $75 million, almost all of which came from the conflict zone in Congo.
Correspondent Scott Pelley posed pointed questions to the jewelry industry, which is aware of what is happening in Congo but has yet to set standards to trace and audit their gold. Matt Runci who represents retailers as head of the trade group Jewelers of America and the Responsible Jewelery Council, had this to say:
"There is absolutely no place and no need for debate around the question of whether any illegally sourced mineral ought to be part of the industry supply chain. It should not be."
Unfortunately the Council has yet to act on Mr. Runci's words, though it says it is "developing a system for the industry that will, one day, trace gold to its source," and as Runci adds, "[the Council] stands ready to work with stakeholders and with government to achieve that end."
When pushed on the issue, Runci reinforced the need for pressure on corporations like Walmart, the largest gold retailer in America, to declare and trace the source of their gold.
Remember blood diamonds? It was a consumer campaign demanding that the diamonds we purchase not finance war, and it was the catalyst for peace in three West African countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Angola). We must do the same now for Congo by demanding conflict-free jewelry and electronics.
Join me tomorrow (along with International Rescue Committee's Brian Sage and Run for Congo Women's Lisa Shannon) at 4:30 p.m. EST/1:30 p.m PST for an activist call focused on the humanitarian impact of conflict minerals and about what we can all do to help end the sordid trade.