University | 2:56 pm | April 25, 2013 | By Sophie Gould

On Congolese minerals, students urge ‘responsible investing’

Students from Yale, Brown and Dartmouth released a joint statement Wednesday calling for their universities to adopt more responsible investing policies toward companies that use minerals mined in eastern Congo.

In the statement, the students said they are concerned about human rights violations in the Congo, which they said are perpetrated by armed groups that earn millions of dollars every year by selling tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. These minerals are bought and used by major electronics companies to make cell phones, laptops and gaming devices, they said.

“Since universities are major institutional consumers of and investors in electronics, they are well positioned to stand behind electronics companies that source responsibly from Congolese mines— or to consider withdrawing support in instances where companies turn a blind eye,” the statement read.

Though section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act now requires companies to release annual reports about their mineral supply chains, the students said universities with investments in electronics companies should use their influence to help pressure companies to purchase conflict-free minerals.

Julia Spiegel LAW ’13 and Elizabeth Starr ’13, two of the authors of the statement, are members of the student organization Accountability and Corporate Transparency for Congo, or A.C.T. for Congo, which has been urging the University to take action on conflict-mineral investments since 2010. In spring 2011, Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility began reviewing A.C.T. for Congo’s recommendations to the University, but no results of that collaboration were ever made public.

“We couldn’t conclude with any certainty that if we started boycotting [the companies] it wouldn’t do more harm than good,” Jonathan Macey LAW ’82, chair of the ACIR, told the News in February 2012 while the ACIR was still reviewing A.C.T. for Congo’s cause.

The authors of the statement are participants in the Conflict Free Campus Initiative, a network of over 150 campuses around the world dedicated to this cause. Fourteen colleges and universities have already passed policies concerning conflict minerals, including Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Read the full statement below:

We, as students from Brown, Dartmouth, and Yale Universities, are concerned about the ongoing human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC is home to the deadliest war since World War II, where armed groups are responsible for severe human rights abuses, including sexual and gender-based violence, the recruitment of children as soldiers, and extrajudicial killing of civilians.

Though the conflict in the DRC is complex and its causes are many, one contributing factor is armed groups’ collection of revenue related to the illicit trade in conflict minerals, according to the UN Group of Experts and the Government Accountability Office.ii Armed groups earn an estimated $183 million every year by selling tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold—minerals that are used in nearly all consumer electronic products, including cell phones, laptop computers, and gaming devices. In response, in August 2012 the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act,iv requiring companies to release annual reports concerning their mineral supply chains. While this legislation is a major step, consumers must continue demonstrate that there is a demand for conflict free products if companies are to be expected to implement sufficient measures. In fact, the Dodd-Frank Act calls upon responsible investors to make informed investment choices based on these corporate reports. Since universities are major institutional consumers of and investors in electronics, they are well positioned to stand behind electronics companies that source responsibly from Congolese mines—or to consider withdrawing support in instances where companies turn a blind eye.

Fourteen colleges and universities have already passed policies on conflict minerals, including Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania. The student movement has grown from around 20 campuses in 2010 to over 150 across the world in 2013. Companies have already begun to respond: between December 2010 and August 2012, a majority of major electronics companies took substantial steps towards eliminating conflict minerals from their supply chains. But this pressure must be sustained in order for progress to continue and for companies to invest in conflict-free mining in eastern Congo that benefits Congo’s people rather than armed groups.

Brown, Dartmouth, and Yale are leaders in the higher education community. As the members of these respected institutions, we recognize our unique potential and social obligation to promote ethical practices on our campuses and beyond. We therefore call on our respective administrations, investor responsibility committees, Boards of Trustees, and on members of other Ivy League institutions to help bring an end to the atrocities in Congo by advocating for socially  responsible procurement and investment policiesrelated to conflict minerals.

This joint statement is meant to serve as impetus for further action. We will continue to work on our respective campuses to establish Brown, Dartmouth, and Yale as leaders in this movement.We call upon our campuses to adopt concrete conflict minerals policies to demonstrate our ethical leadership in action.

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