Hello, I'm a Mac, and I'm helping fuel the war in the Congo
by Brooke Shields
Hello, I'm a Mac, and I'm helping fuel the war in the Congo - currently the deadliest conflict in the world. So are PCs, cell phones, digital cameras and other consumer electronics. That's what Apple's famous "I'm a Mac ... And I'm a PC" ads don't tell you. So I and cinematographer Steven Lubensky, with the help of actors Joshua Malina and John Lehr, decided to create a version that does.
It is not surprising if you didn't know that your favorite Apple gadgets -- your iPhone, iPad, iPod and Mac -- are linked to the conflict engulfing the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo today and for the past dozen year
s. Most people don't know - which is in part why the war in Congo has gone on for so long. With more than 5 million people killed, it is the deadliest conflict since World War II.
As Nick Kristof wrote in The New York Times yesterday, "Electronics manufacturers have tried to hush all this up. They want you to look at a gadget and think 'sleek,' not 'blood.'"
Tech titans -- including Nintendo, HP, Dell, Intel, and RIM, the makers of BlackBerry -- have made millions from products that use conflict minerals and have gotten off the hook for fueling violence in the Congo, thanks to a tendency in today's culture not to question where our everyday items come from.
That's not necessarily a criticism; it's just the way the world works now, where we interact with materials from every corner of the globe on a daily basis. So we tend to think that our new iPhone came from the Mac store down the street or our new digital camera originated from an online camera store. But as you see in our video, the problem arises with all the components inside.
Essential parts of our electronic devices are made from minerals found in eastern Congo. Tin, tantalum, tungsten -- the 3Ts -- and gold serve such necessary functions as making our cell phones vibrate or helping our iPods store electricity.
The same armed groups who control most of the mines that supply these essential minerals to the world market are responsible for the epidemic of sexual violence in eastern Congo. Women and girls pay a gruesome price, and the persistent health conditions and severe trauma that linger for years after an attack are leaving communities and families in utter ruin. In addition, the labor conditions in the mines are abysmal. Indentured servitude is common practice, and children as young as 11 are used to squeeze into the tight spaces underground.
There are few conflicts in the world where the link between our consumer appetites and mass human suffering is so direct.
The lucrative mineral trade -- estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually -- perpetuates the violence because it enables militias and government soldiers to buy weapons to continue the fight for these valuable resources. All along the supply chain that winds its way through central Africa, armed groups and governments benefit immensely from the trade in conflict minerals, making it a very stubborn problem to eradicate.
This reality isn't the result of an elaborate cover-up. Until consumers started asking, electronics companies were satisfied to say that they didn't know whether their products were made with conflict minerals from Congo. The trade in minerals from eastern Congo is shockingly opaque, hence the easy exploitation. Even now, as the issue of conflict minerals gains traction, companies like Apple continue to tell us that their products do not contain conflict minerals because their suppliers said so.
From towns and campuses across the United States to the U.S. Congress, advocates are protesting this inadequate response and pushing to put a system in place to trace, audit, and certify the minerals in our electronic devices, so that ultimately, we as consumers can choose to buy conflict-free.
Visit RAISE Hope for Congo, www.raisehopeforcongo.org, and send the message to tech companies that you want them to make their products conflict-free. And please share this video with your friends.
Brooke Smith is an actress, writer and director. Brooke has acted in many feature films including "The Silence of the Lambs", "Vanya on 42nd Street" and "Series 7: The Contenders." On television, Brooke played Dr. Erica Hahn on "Grey's Anatomy." The MAC/PC Conflict minerals ad is the third PSA Brooke has directed for The Enough Project's RAISE Hope for Congo campaign.
Death by Gadget
“Blood diamonds” have faded away, but we may now be carrying “blood phones.”
An ugly paradox of the 21st century is that some of our elegant symbols of modernity — smartphones, laptops and digital cameras — are built from minerals that seem to be fueling mass slaughter and rape in Congo. With throngs waiting in lines in the last few days to buy the latest iPhone, I’m thinking: What if we could harness that desperation for new technologies to the desperate need to curb the killing in central Africa?
I’ve never reported on a war more barbaric than Congo’s, and it haunts me. In Congo, I’ve seen women who have been mutilated, children who have been forced to eat their parents’ flesh, girls who have been subjected to rapes that destroyed their insides. Warlords finance their predations in part through the sale of mineral ore containing tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold. For example, tantalum from Congo is used to make electrical capacitors that go into phones, computers and gaming devices.
Electronics manufacturers have tried to hush all this up. They want you to look at a gadget and think “sleek,” not “blood.”
Yet now there’s a grass-roots movement pressuring companies to keep these “conflict minerals” out of high-tech supply chains. Using Facebook and YouTube, activists are harassing companies like Apple, Intel and Research in Motion (which makes the BlackBerry) to get them to lean on their suppliers and ensure the use of, say, Australian tantalum rather than tantalum peddled by a Congolese militia.
A humorous new video taunting Apple and PC computers alike goes online this weekend on YouTube, with hopes that it will go viral. Put together by a group of Hollywood actors, it’s a spoof on the famous “I’m a Mac”/”I’m a PC” ad and suggests that both are sometimes built from conflict minerals.
“Guess we have some things in common after all,” Mac admits.
Protesters demonstrated outside the grand opening of Apple’s new store in Washington, demanding that the company commit to using only clean minerals. Last month, activists blanketed Intel’s Facebook page with calls to support tough legislation to curb trade in conflict minerals. For a time, Intel disabled comments — creating a stink that called more attention to blood minerals than human rights campaigners ever could.
Partly as a result, requirements that companies report on their use of conflict minerals were accepted as an amendment to financial reform legislation.
A word of background: Eastern Congo is the site of the most lethal conflict since World War II, and is widely described as the rape capital of the world. The war had claimed 5.4 million deaths as of April 2007, with the toll mounting by 45,000 a month, according to a study by the International Rescue Committee.
It’s not that American tech companies are responsible for the slaughter, or that eliminating conflict minerals from Americans’ phones will immediately end the war. Even the Enough Project, an anti-genocide organization that has been a leading force in the current campaign, estimates that only one-fifth of the world’s tantalum comes from Congo.
“There’s no magic-bullet solution to peace in Congo,” notes David Sullivan of the Enough Project, “but this is one of the drivers of the conflict.” The economics of the war should be addressed to resolve it.
The Obama administration also should put more pressure on Rwanda to play a constructive role next door in Congo (it has, inexcusably, backed one militia and bolstered others by dealing extensively in the conflict minerals trade). Impeding trade in conflict minerals is also a piece of the Congo puzzle, and because of public pressure, a group of companies led by Intel and Motorola is now developing a process to audit origins of tantalum in supply chains.
Manufacturers previously settled for statements from suppliers that they do not source in eastern Congo, with no verification. Auditing the supply chains at smelters to determine whether minerals are clean or bloody would add about a penny to the price of a cellphone, according to the Enough Project, which says the figure originated with the industry.
“Apple is claiming that their products don’t contain conflict minerals because their suppliers say so,” said Jonathan Hutson, of the Enough Project. “People are saying that answer is not good enough. That’s why there’s this grass-roots movement, so that we as consumers can choose to buy conflict free.” Some ideas about what consumers can do are at raisehopeforCongo.org — starting with spreading the word.
We may be able to undercut some of the world’s most brutal militias simply by making it clear to electronics manufacturers that we don’t want our beloved gadgets to enrich sadistic gunmen. No phone or tablet computer can be considered “cool” if it may be helping perpetuate one of the most brutal wars on the planet.
from the NYT
This is a cool PSA and a good cause, because the whole Congo situation is so f*cked up and awful, and yet, so horribly, horribly forgotten. Glad to see someone (and my bb Joshua Malina no less!) is calling attention to it, and glad Nick Kristof is on board, as always. He may be a little self-indulgent, but I love how he can't seem to give up on places, not even Eastern Congo.
Edited for HTML Fail. Fixed now, I hope!