Earlier this week the London School of Economics issued a report entitled “Trading Conflict for Development’ (http://www.crisisstates.com/Publications/tradingConflict.htm) which analysed the mineral trade in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and how that trade supports the continuing insecurity in the region.
The London School of Economics, in its thorough and thoughtful analysis, came to the conclusion that the conflict in the Congo is a political issue. The involvement in the mineral trade by the various rebel groups is merely a symptom of the conflict, but not a driver of the conflict.
Additionally, LSE concluded that any boycott or ban of minerals from the Congo would not have any substantive impact on the conflict itself and would only further impoverish the million plus Congolese who are engaged in and supported by the artisanal mining sector.
The report, funded in part by the British Department for International Development, is at odds with the policy recommendations of the Enough Project. The Enough Project has just launched its cleverly titled (for Americans anyway) “Can You Hear Me Now?” campaign against what it described as “conflict” minerals in the Congo. (“Can You Hear Me Now?” is the catchphrase for Verizon, an American mobile phone operator.) Despite the trademark infringement the Enough Project’s campaign had other significant failings (see “Enough! Stupidity” below;) primarily that 99.8% of the global tin market is free of “conflict” tin, and any boycott or ban on minerals out of the Congo would further impoverish a large segment of the population.
Now, in a clarification of its campaign objectives, Enough has backtracked from its original goals of a complete boycott and now claims that the purpose of its campaign is to ensure electronics manufacturers are not sourcing raw materials from rebel groups in the Congo.
The Enough Project wants to pressure the big electronics manufacturers; Apple, Hewlett Packard, Nokia and Nintendo to exercise proper due diligence to ensure their raw materials are not sourced from conflict areas of the Congo.
The problem with the Enough Project, led by career activist John Prendergast, is that they have a fundamental misconception about the global marketplace, and economics in general.
For the big electronics manufacturers, the costs associated with ensuring that the 0.2% of conflict tin that exists in the global tin supply does not come from conflict areas of the Congo is prohibitive at best, if possible at all. By the time Apple or Hewlett Packard receive an electronic component for an item the tin has passed from mine site to trader, to exporter, to tin smelter, to trader, to London Metal Exchange warehouse, to tin solder manufacturer, to several component manufacturers and onto finished product.
The Enough Project would require these companies, in the middle of the greatest economic crisis in our lifetimes, to trace every quantity of tin back through numerous jurisdictions and companies and back to remote parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
Idealistic – yes. Realistic – no.
While Enough has now clearly stated that they don’t want a boycott on minerals from the Congo this is exactly what they are asking for. The end result of Enough’s campaign, if it could possibly be successful, is a de facto ban on minerals from the Congo. No multinational corporation is going to expend such resources on a due diligence program for such a small quantity of conflict tin in the supply chain – instead they will simply require their component suppliers to ensure the tin they are using is not from the Congo, regardless of its legality. This will result in no company willing to buy minerals from the Congo – thus creating the de facto boycott.
One has to wonder about the motives behind the Enough Project’s campaign. One would hope that as the “Can You Hear Me Now?” campaign was planned and formulated, this line of logic and reasoning was pursued. Perhaps John Prendergast and the Enough Project staff should put as much effort into doing something positive for Africa as they do on self – promotion. The livelihoods of millions of Africans depends on it.