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Ugh! My Electronics are Hurting People

Two passions of mine collided this week in my email; Congo and ending slavery today. I received an urgent email message from Free The Slaves, an anti-human trafficking organization that I follow to stay updated on the movement here in the US and abroad. The subject of the email is Urgent Action - Help us stop Conflict Minerals from the DRC. According to Wikipedia, conflict minerals refers to minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses, notably in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by the Congolese National Army and various armed rebel groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda. My email said minerals that come from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo turn up in electronics, in light bulbs, batteries and other everyday items. It would be hard to escape our connection to slavery and conflict in Congo. 

The last sentence got me. "It would be hard to escape our connection to slavery and conflict in Congo." Ouch. I hate the reality of the situation in Congo and how I am connected to it. Even typing on my computer right now writing this blog connects me to the horrific conflict taking place in Congo right now. I talked with my mom earlier on the cell phone today and that connects me to slavery in Congo. I have the TV on right now and that too connects me to the pain Congolese are facing in this conflict. Of course I have some lights on as well that may in fact be made of minerals that are the cause for harm to innocent people in Congo. 

The unfortunate truth is that people are suffering in Congo at the cost of technological advances that we in the consumer nation demand in our everyday purchases. And most of the time we do so with good intent. I know that the 17 year old who asked for a laptop for Christmas this year has no intention of hurting anyone in Congo by doing so. I also know that today's professional does not mean harm to anyone in Congo by deciding to purchase the iphone to or ipad to help the efficiency of his/her job. Our technological devices of today are simply part of the social norms in our society at this time. And that's not a bad thing at all.

What I am not sure so about is the level of intent and compassion of the manufacturing of some of the items that are causing harm. The companies that are purchasing the conflict minerals, namely, cassiterite, wolframite, coltan, and gold, know exactly where they are coming from and know exactly what is happening to people as a result of the demand in making their products.

Men and women are being kidnapped from their homes and forced to work in the mines of Congo so that today's consumer can have the latest electronic device. They are being bought and sold for minerals. It's wrong. Just last month an entire village was kicked out of their homes and tortured in inhumane ways that I won't mention here, so that a rebel group could move in and begin mining the minerals in that area that would bring them monetary reward they were seeking.

Amos was a minor prophet who was used by God to give a serious and stern message to a group of Israelites who were behaving in a similar manner as the rebels in Congo.

They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. -Amos 2:6b-7

That very thing Amos dealt with a long time ago is still happening today. But the thing is, it doesn't have to be that way. The result of the conflict upon the Congolese people includes debt bondage slavery, forced labor and child labor. Congo also has the highest child soldier population in all of Africa. Here's a breakdown of this reality:

  • Slavery at gunpoint. Villagers are rounded up by armed groups and marched to the mines.
  • Debt bondage slavery. Money, food or tools are advanced to laborers, but bogus accounting and abusive interest rates prevent them from repaying the debt. Miners are forced to keep digging.
  • Sexual slavery. Militias and the army abduct women and girls from villages. Some are lured to mining zones by false promises of financial support.
  • Peonage. False criminal charges are made against a person, who will be sentenced in a corrupt or phony trial to toil at the mines.
  • Child soldiering. Children are forced into the ranks of armed groups that control mining zones.
  • Forced marriage. Combatants take women from villages to keep as "wives."
The latest gadget just isn't worth these things happening to people. We can actually stop the injustice happening in Congo with our actions. We can urge the companies buying the minerals in Congo to buy them somewhere else. Congo is not the only country where the conflict minerals are found. Australia, for instance, is home to most of the minerals also found in Congo. Sure, they may cost the purchaser more than they currently pay for them in Congo, but in Australia, you won't have the brutality you have happening in the Congo today. 

My email from Free the Slaves has a petition going. You can sign the petition here.  

Signing the petition will help. Voicing some concerns to your favorite electronic manufacturers will help. Talking about the evil happening in Congo to your community will help shed light on the darkness. Most of all, prayer for Congo and God's blessed creation of the beautiful Congolese people is needed. The time is now for the oppression found upon Congo to be lifted and for the Lord to call back that nation unto his own. We can be part of that with our consumer decisions, with the power of our free voices and with our prayers to the Lord who bends his ears towards the cries of his saints. 

May this day come soon for Congo:

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name: make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known for all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you. - Isaiah 12:4-6

*The first picture I like to call, Where is Carrie? This was taken in a village just outside of DRC's capital city Kinshasa in the fall 2003.

**The second picture was taken at an orphange run by Catholic Nuns. House of Peace was both orphanage and hospice. It was in this place where I witnessed adults in their final days who suffered in the final stages of HIV/AIDS. House of Peace continues to invade my mind from time to time. 

***For more on Congo's history read King Leopold's Ghost.

****To understand more of the world's problem with slavery and how consumerism plays apart in it, check out Kevin Bale's book Disposable People.  

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I drink coffee, read books, and travel. I’ve been able to drink coffee and discuss books with friends all over the world, simply because someone built a bridge and I made it east of the Mississippi and beyond. For this reason, I love bridges.


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