Petition calls for “conflict-free” campus

The student organization Yale Accountability and Corporate Transparency for Congo called for the University to become a “conflict-mineral free campus” in a recent petition sent to faculty members.

For the past two years, undergraduate and graduate student activists have lobbied the Yale administration to end any dealings with companies whose products contain “conflict minerals” from the Congo — minerals the students claim drive deadly conflicts in the region. Though the proposal has been under the review of Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility for over a year, students have renewed their efforts on the issue by asking faculty and U.S. Senator John Kerry ’66 to pressure the administration to adopt the resolution. But ACIR committee chair Jonathan Macey LAW ’82 said Sunday that it is difficult for companies to know whether their products contain conflict minerals and that there is no concrete evidence that the students’ proposal would positively impact conflicts in the Congo.

“We couldn’t conclude with any certainty that if we started boycotting them it wouldn’t do more harm than good,” Macey said.

The newest effort to present a faculty petition to administrators has come from Jason Stearns GRD ’15, Julia Spiegel LAW ’13 and Nell Okie, a New Haven resident and member of the undergraduate-run New Haven Alliance for Congo.

Okie said she has reached out to members of the Yale community as well as Kerry, who she said sent a letter to University President Richard Levin in support of the proposal. The organizers had collected 14 faculty signatures as of Sunday night, according to Okie. She added that New Haven’s Peace Commission has also asked the Board of Aldermen to make the city “conflict mineral-free.”.

Spiegel said she and other activists are working to get input from experts that can be brought to the ACIR.

“We’ve gathered a series of Congo expert letters of support that we are going to deliver to Professor Macey and President Levin,” Spiegel said. “We’ve also written detailed follow-ups to ACIR about issues that may be holding up action, and we put together a faculty letter.”

Macey said the ACIR is continuing to deliberate on the issue, adding that data conflicts on whether the mineral trade in the Congo actually harms the region. While the petition claims that Stanford, Dartmouth, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania have implemented policies opposing conflict minerals, Macey said the policies at those universities are “so full of contingencies” that they essentially have no effect.

Zahra Baitie ’14, the president of the Yale Undergraduate Association for African Peace and Development, said Yale can play a pivotal role in the conflict minerals issue because of the University’s status and purchasing power. Like Spiegel, Baitie noted the importance of collecting additional data on the topic.

“Information rather than signatures is what is needed,” Baitie said. “Advocates at Yale are working to help the Yale administration make an informed decision.”

In addition to the recent faculty petition, the African peace and development association drafted a letter on the issue to Levin, Chief Investment Officer David Swensen and Macey in November.

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