February 15, 2011

Congo Expert Aaron Hall Pushes Cornell to Sign Conflict-Free Pledge

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The profits from mining in eastern Congo are used to buy weapons, perpetuating conflicts in the region.

In a lecture about the humanitarian crisis in the mines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Aaron Hall, policy analyst for the Enough Project, encouraged Cornell to invest in conflict-free business.

According to Hall, if the administration decides to make this pledge, Cornell will be the third university in the U.S. to do so, after Stanford University and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“The more big-name schools, like Cornell, to get this initiative done, the more helpful it will be for campaigns at other schools,” said George Hornedo ’13, a sponsor of the Conflict-Free Cornell Student Assembly resolution.

“Initiatives like this are getting people’s attention. That is what is important, getting people to notice and enact the appropriate change,” Hall said.

The Enough Project is a non-profit organization that works to “stop mass atrocities and genocide,” according to Hall.

Africa’s history is marked by instability, ethnic divisions, land disputes and refugee issues. Since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, rebel groups and rogue elements of the national army have controlled the tin, tantalum and tungsten — “the three T’s” — and gold mines in eastern Congo. The profits from mining these minerals are used to buy weapons, perpetuating the conflicts.

According to United Nations reports, every mine in the eastern Congo is militarized.

“Now, the fights are for control of the mines,” Hall said. “The [rebel] groups have flimsy political agendas otherwise.”

According to Hall, most of these Congo mines are artesian — the minerals are extracted by people with shovels and pick axes, not machines. Children are forced to work and there are often men with guns at the top patrolling, Hall said, adding that the lack of roads and organization enable the rebel groups to control the flow and transport of the minerals.

Many of the minerals are used in consumer products, such as cell phones, Hall said.

The Enough Campaign is working to implement an International Certification Process to trace, audit and certify minerals from the mine  to the point of export, the smelter, and the end-use company, Hall said.

“We want to create a legitimate mining sector,” he said.

Last summer, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires all companies that use the “three T’s” and gold in their products to trace them back to the country of origin and determine whether they contributed to the conflicts.

Hall’s lecture came a few months after the Student Assembly unanimously passed the Conflict-Free Campus Resolution on Sept. 23 and sent a letter to Paul Gould, chairman of Cornell’s Investment Committee.

“We are urging the University to call upon companies and ask them to remove conflict minerals from their supply chains,” Hornedo, the S.A. resolution co-sponsor, said.

Additionally, Hornedo said the sponsors are asking that Cornell divest from all companies that purchase conflict-minerals once the Securities and Exchange Commission report with that information is released.

“The divestment aspect is the real meat of the campaign and the real change and push will come in that area,” Hornedo said.

According to Hall, going conflict-free will not be a financial burden to the University.

President David Skorton did not respond to the resolution, because a new chief investment officer, Mike Abbott, was recently appointed. Skorton wants Abbott to transition and learn more about the issue first, Hornedo said.

Since the resolution passed, the sponsors published an op-ed in The Sun and collected more than 200 students’ signatures, according to Hornedo.

Kit Dobyns ’12, the president of Conflict-Free Cornell, spent a lot of time in Rwanda and Tanzania, and Nate Houghton ’12, a sponsor of the resolution, started the Congo Leadership Initiative after interacting with displaced persons.

“Our goal was to connect our experience with the Cornell campus and focus on global responsibility,” Dobyns said.

The sponsors are awaiting a response from Skorton and expect one by the end of the semester.

By bringing in an expert, Houghton said he hoped to elucidate Cornell’s role in the conflict.

Laura Shepard contributed reporting to this article.

Original Author: Margo Cohen Ristorucci