This article was originally published on the Huffington Post:
By Stefani Jones and Sanjay Kishore
The pressure is mounting on companies to create conflict-free products with minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This week, Duke University joined 10 other colleges calling for responsible monitoring of corporate supply chains that may be funding violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
So, what’s the connection between Duke, supply chains, and the DRC?
The DRC is home to one of the deadliest conflicts in recent history, where war has claimed the lives of almost 6 million in the last fifteen years. UN administrators have called eastern Congo the “rape capital of the world,” and it continues to be one of the most dangerous places to live as a woman or child.
The conflict’s historic roots are complex, but the control of natural resources–including what are known as “conflict minerals”–has remained a compelling incentive for warfare amongst armed militias. These minerals, some essential components in electronics products, are smuggled through supply chains with little oversight or regulation. To date, the UN, OECD, and U.S. government have all formally recognized the role resource extraction has played in contributing to conflict.
Last Friday, after a yearlong student advocacy effort, the Duke Board of Trustees approved an investment resolution supporting ethical sourcing of minerals from the DRC. The “proxy voting” guideline instructs those managing Duke’s $5.7 billion endowment to leverage its stake as an institutional investor to vote in favor of conflict minerals-conscious shareholder resolutions in relevant corporations.
Duke is only the second university to pass this type of conflict-free resolution at the Board of Trustees level, after Stanford did so in 2010; 10 other schools, most recently Emory University in Atlanta and University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland have passed conflict-free resolutions. More significantly, Duke is the first university to take action at the Board of Trustees level since the signing of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act of 2010. The law included a provision requiring relevant industries to monitor supply chains and report efforts to avoid supporting human rights violations.
Though Dodd-Frank was passed two years ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission has yet to release regulations instructing companies on how to comply. And in a world absent of rules, we can’t be certain that companies are taking steps toward conflict-free from Congo.
Duke represents one of many universities calling for action. What started with Stanford in 2010 has become a movement for conflict-free electronics at campuses around the world. Over 100 schools across the U.S., UK, and Canada are working on getting their university to take the first step, and student voices are becoming increasingly hard to ignore.
At the University of Pennsylvania, Apple’s third largest education partner in the world, passing a conflict-free resolution in May 2011 has spurred the administration to conduct a more comprehensive sustainability overhaul of the university’s purchasing policy. At Yale, advocates led by Jason Stearns, former coordinator of the UN Group of Experts in the DRC, are pursuing a forward-looking investment policy that could set a new precedent in the movement.
We know there’s no such thing as “magic-bullet” solution to conflict in the DRC. Conflict minerals are not the sole cause of conflict, nor will they be a panacea. But they are a rallying point for all of us–as youth and consumers in the global marketplace–to stand in solidarity in any way we can.
We’re proud our university has not been paralyzed in the face of complexity. Indeed, supply chain reform is complicated, and we acknowledge the nuance of the issue; Duke has pledged to reevaluate its investment policies in five years to potentially take even further action when more context is gathered.
Yet, what’s important is that, in the midst of sustained human rights violations and an ambiguous regulatory environment, the Duke community made the collective commitment to speak now–and there’s no reason any and every other university cannot do the same.
As we think about the potential for students across the world to catalyze change, we’re reminded of one of Bobby Kennedy’s most famous quotes: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Duke’s action is just another ripple in the movement for peace in the DRC. But momentum is building, and collective university action is creating a current for justice that cannot be ignored.
Article originally posted on Duke Today:
A student-led effort to tie Duke University’s investment guidelines to the issue of conflict minerals has received the backing of the university’s Board of Trustees.
Conflict minerals are minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
On Friday, the board’s Executive Committee approved a resolution that authorizes DUMAC, Duke’s investment arm, to adopt a proxy voting guideline for investments in which the university has direct ownership. The guideline stipulates that Duke vote in favor of “well-written and reasonable shareholder resolutions that ask companies for reports on their policies and efforts regarding their avoidance of conflict minerals and conflict mineral derivatives.”
In approving the resolution, the board expressed its appreciation to Duke students Stefani Jones and Sanjay Kishore and to the student-led Coalition for a Conflict-Free Duke “for bringing the issue of conflict minerals to the attention of the university.”
“It is rewarding to see our students take such an active role on issues of socially responsible investment,” Duke President Richard H. Brodhead said. “I’m grateful for the excellent work that members of the Duke community did in addressing a difficult topic in such a thoughtful way.”
Jones, the coalition’s president, said she first learned about the relationship between minerals and the conflict in the Congo last year while interning at the Enough Project, which is dedicated to ending genocide and crimes against humanity.
“I immediately felt a sense of responsibility — both as a consumer and as someone who cares about human rights — to speak up and use what influence I have to affect change,” Jones said.
“With an issue as large and complex as this, it’s easy to assume that student actions can’t really have an impact. But when we as individuals gain the backing of our institutions and surrounding community, our collective voices have the power to affect real change,” she added.
Over the past year, the Coalition for a Conflict-Free Duke worked to mobilize the Duke community around this cause. Its members educated student groups, met with members of the Duke administration and carefully researched a proposal that eventually made its way to the president’s Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility (ACIR). ACIR, composed of faculty, students and administrators, recommended to Brodhead that the university adopt the investment guidelines.
“ACIR sought to engage both the broad views of the Duke community and the advice of experts,” said Jonathan B. Wiener, the committee chair and a professor in the schools of law, public policy and environment. “Conflict minerals present a difficult question because the social harm of the conflict is clearly severe, but the likely effects of different measures Duke could adopt are complex. We tried to give advice that explained this complexity, charted a considered course of action, and also created a process for continuing learning and evaluation.”
After reviewing ACIR’s report, Brodhead recommended that the board approve the conflict mineral guideline.
In 2004, Duke’s Board of Trustees adopted a Guideline on Socially Responsible Investing, and created a process for deliberation on requests “to take ethical factors into account when setting investment policies.” In 2007, Duke students submitted the first such request, asking the university to refrain from investing in companies doing significant business in Sudan/Darfur. The trustees, based on ACIR’s and the president’s recommendation, adopted that request in January 2008.
Kishore, a member of the coalition board, said students involved in the conflict mineral issue “were inspired by Duke’s storied tradition of leadership in movements for corporate social responsibility and human rights, dating back to the Students Against Sweatshops campaign in the late ’90s.”
“We wanted to further this legacy of student activism,” Kishore added.
The resolution approved Friday also calls for a separate committee — the President’s Special Committee — to review the policy after five years “as its full consequences and evolving circumstances are better understood.”
When I rushed into Von Canon C on Wednesday for the ACIR hearing I admit that for a moment I was stunned—the room was full. What was even more surprising was that, as I scanned around for an empty seat, I realized that I barely recognised anybody in the audience. The familiar faces of the Coalition board members were there, for sure, but there were almost a hundred other people in the room. “Who are they?” I found myself wondering.
After a brief introduction, the ACIR chair, Mr. Jonathan Wiener, opened up the floor for questions and discussion. And so began one of the most inspiring evenings of my time at Duke.
Amongst the people who spoke that night, there were undergraduates, graduates, faculty and staff. There were current Duke students, past Duke students, even future Duke students. There were public policy majors, biology majors, engineering students, evolutionary anthropologists; representatives from Fuqua, Sanford, the Law School, the Nicholas School, and the Medical School. There were people from the young to the not-as-young; religious leaders to non-believers; men and women; people from all kinds of different backgrounds with all kinds of different perspectives and all kinds of different beliefs. They spoke about gender violence and international trade, moral responsibility and institutional leadership, the suffering in Congo, “white man’s burden,” what-has-beens and possibly-yet-to-comes. But the central message in every single speech was clear: “This is an issue that matters to me, and this is an issue I want Duke to take a stance on.”
And as I listened to speech after speech I realised that these people were none other than my peers and my mentors, all part of the same community which I am so proud to be a member of, and the question I should have asked was not “who are they” but rather “who are we?” Because that night despite all our many differences we were united: united in our common humanity, united in our desire to see justice in the Congo, united in our love for our school and the hope that Duke will do the right thing.
I don’t know where this will go from here. I don’t know what the SEC and the Chamber of Commerce and private companies will do in the future. I don’t even know whether the ACIR will vote in favour of passing the resolution, despite the unanimously supportive opinions at the public hearing. And this is not meant to be a self-congratulatory post: the situation in the Congo is no better now than it was before the hearing, and we haven’t done anything to change that. I’m not naïve enough to think that we did a heroic thing or optimistic enough to believe that only good will come out of our decisions. But I think it is an inspirational start. It is a step, as Stefani and Sanjay said, a very symbolic first step, that shows how as a community we care about the ethics of our actions and how we want our university to do the same. Like the first step of a long run, our presence at the hearing that night means we are now committed to the journey, and no matter how many hills and puddles and wrong turns we might encounter in the future we cannot let that be a reason to turn back now.
We care about knowledge in the service of society. Always have, and always will. And this spirit, this dedication, is not something we leave behind when we graduate, nor is it something that dissipates when one generation of students leaves and another comes along. Because this is what Duke is about, as Professor Brian Hare stated on Wednesday, as much as the basketball and the Saturday nightlife, as much as the Chapel tower and the psychotic squirrels, as much as the students who started the Students Against Sweatshops movement in 1997 and those who celebrated the rejection of Professor Bassett’s resignation a hundred and nine years ago. This is what Duke is about, and this is what we are about. Because who are we?
We are Duke.
- Lisa Ji, Trinity ’14
This article originally appeared in the Duke Chronicle:
Duke is making progress on a path to potentially become free of conflict minerals and the interests of companies using the materials.
For the past six months, the Coalition for a Conflict-Free Duke has been pushing the University to consider a shareholder resolution that would ask Duke to take conflict minerals into account when investing in electronic companies. For the first time in five years, the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility conducted an open session Wednesday, where a crowded room discussed Duke’s financial relationship with conflict minerals in Africa. If the initiative is successful, Duke will be the second university in the nation, following Stanford University, to pass a shareholder resolution regarding conflict mineral trade.
The sale of conflict minerals is largely responsible for fueling violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“It’s high time that we’re talking about investment responsibility at Duke,” said CCFD Chair Stefani Jones, a sophomore. “There’s something wrong … when we don’t know if our cellphones are funding the deadliest war since World War II.”
CCFD’s proposed voting guide would request that shareholders vote to approve resolutions asking companies for information and increased transparency regarding their involvement in conflict mineral trade.
The committee hopes to advise President Richard Brodhead about conflict mineral investment policy by the end of the semester, said ACIR Chair Jonathan Wiener, William R. and Thomas L. Perkins professor of law. The committee meets only when requested and provides investment recommendations to Brodhead, who can then present the recommendations to the Board. Only the Board has the power to influence shareholder policy.
The forum provided an opportunity for the ACIR to gain insight about how the conflict mineral trade causes substantial social injury and how CCFD’s desired change would have a direct effect in alleviating this injury.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has suffered 15 years of violence and unrest, with more than five million casualties, according to an informational document provided by the CCFD at the event. It has also gained designation as the rape capital of the world. This violence has been fueled in part by the illicit trade involving minerals widely used in consumer technology products, as well as food packaging and industrial goods.
Between 20 and 40 percent of the Congo’s warlords’ revenue comes from these conflict minerals, Jones said.
“Tonight was about getting that real, personal connection,” said junior Sanjay Kishore, CCFD member and president of Duke Partnership for Service. “It wasn’t about us at all—it was about hearing from folks who are in the Congo, who do research in the Congo, who have some kind of connection.”
Rachel Shukuru, a political refugee from the DRC who attended the event, said it is necessary to convince companies to take responsibility for their actions.
“Thank you for working to help Congo, to help those people who are suffering,” Shukuru said to the crowd.
Sophomore Nyuol Tong, a student from South Sudan and a columnist for The Chronicle, spoke at the event about a sense of guilt and moral obligation regarding problems in Africa throughout Western society.
“The issue will be solved by the people on the ground,” Tong noted. “But if [Duke stops] supporting these companies, that will be a mitigating factor.”
In addition to affecting people, the conflict mineral trade also affects plant and animal life in the DRC, noted Brian Hare, assistant professor of evolutionary anthropology. Eastern Congo is one of the most biodiverse places in the world, he noted, adding that he studies the psychology of great apes, some of which only live in the DRC.
“When people are suffering in eastern Congo, so are all of the endangered species that live in the forest” Hare said. “When people are exploiting the forest for minerals, they are also exploiting the native species—it’s adding insult to injury.”
Several students also noted that efforts to eliminate the illicit conflict mineral trade should not have a negative effect on mines in the region that are already regulated.
“When dawn strikes in the Congo tomorrow, what will they be waking up to?” said junior Alikiah Barclay. “If there’s anything we can do to change that for the better, let’s do it.”
This Wednesday, Duke’s Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility (ACIR) is meeting to review our proposed proxy voting guideline on conflict minerals. It will be the culmination of a six month push for a change in our investment strategy at Duke, and the first time in five years that the committee has met at all to review a request. The proxy voting guideline asks Duke, as a shareholder in a vast array of companies, to vote in favor of shareholder resolutions asking for increased transparency and conflict-free initiatives. It’s a symbolic first step, and it’s something that will show Duke’s commitment at the highest level to stopping human rights abuses in the Congo.
Why the Stakes Are So High
If the resolution passes, Duke will become the second university in the country to pass an investment resolution on conflict minerals (following Stanford in 2010) and the first university to move from an official university statement (which we passed in October) to an investment resolution. And since it’s the first time the ACIR has met since 2007, it means a lot in terms of getting the ball rolling for other investment responsibility initiatives on campus.
Show Your Support
After hearing from experts on the issue all day, the ACIR will be hosting a public forum on conflict minerals for students to voice their support. The public forum will be from 6:00-7:30 PM in Von Canon A, and will be open to all students, faculty, or anyone else wishing to attend. Check out our Facebook event here. We need to fill the room and show the ACIR that students really care about the issue of conflict minerals and human rights in the Congo.
Kony 2012 went viral. The YouTube video has 20 Million views and counting. And if you’re like me, you’ve seen it all over your Facebook. Yet, despite generating huge amounts of publicity, there has been serious criticism (and praise) for the movement and lots of debate. Critics have pointed out that “the LRA was pushed out of Uganda and has been operating in extremely remote areas of the DRC, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic — where Kony himself is believed to be now”, the numbers in the film are greatly exaggerated, and that there’s no mention at all of the Ugandan government. The premise of the film is that we need to generate publicity to pressure to the U.S government to support Uganda in taking out Kony, but there’s no actual discussion in the film as to what Uganda’s government is doing. Ugandan journalist Angelo Izama comments:
“To call the campaign a misrepresentation is an understatement. While it draws attention to the fact that Kony, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in 2005, is still on the loose, its portrayal of his alleged crimes in Northern Uganda are from a bygone era. At the height of the war between especially 1999 and 2004, large hordes of children took refuge on the streets of Gulu town to escape the horrors of abduction and brutal conscription to the ranks of the LRA. Today most of these children are semi-adults. Many are still on the streets unemployed. Gulu has the highest numbers of child prostitutes in Uganda. It also has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis.
If six years ago children in Uganda would have feared the hell of being part of the LRA, a well documented reality already, today the real invisible children are those suffering from “Nodding Disease”. Over 4000 children are victims of this incurable debilitating condition. It’s a neurological disease that has baffled world scientists and attacks mainly children from the most war affected districts of Kitgum, Pader and Gulu.”
But on the other hand, the video has done amazing things in getting people engaged in issues of the region. Even Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga have tweeted about the issues to their millions of followers. Musa Okwanga, a native ofNorthern Uganda, argues that the video is both good and bad. He points out that it generates genuine interest in the problems of the area that did not exist before, and he also highlights the criticism noted above. He said:
“I understand the anger and resentment at Invisible Children’s approach, which with its paternalism has unpleasant echoes of colonialism. I will admit to being perturbed by its apparent top-down prescriptiveness, when so much diligent work is already being done at Northern Uganda’s grassroots. On the other hand, I am very happy – relieved, more than anything – that Invisible Children have raised worldwide awareness of this issue. Murderers and torturers tend to prefer anonymity, and if not that then respectability: that way, they can go about their work largely unhindered. For too many years, the subject of this trending topic on Twitter was only something that I heard about in my grandparents’ living room, as relatives and family friends gathered for fruitless and frustrated hours of discussion. Watching the video, though, I was concerned at the simplicity of the approach that Invisible Children seemed to have taken…. It didn’t introduce them to the many Northern Ugandans already doing fantastic work both in their local communities and in the diaspora. It didn’t ask its viewers to seek diplomatic pressure on President Museveni’s administration.”
The issue of conflict minerals is not unlike the LRA in its complexity. How conflict minerals get from a mine to my computer is a very complicated process. How the efforts of the conflict-free community affect mining on the ground is even harder to understand. This complexity is part of the burden we undertake by involving ourselves in this project. Invisible Children has made itself as an organization that builds pressure by simplifying issues in neat, powerful movies. In doing this, it has been effective, but it has not avoided criticism.
The Kony 2012 video and the reaction it’s caused provides a learning point for the Coalition for a Conflict-Free Duke and the entire conflict-free movement. We need to choose if it is best to simplify a very complex issue in order to generate more publicity. Is it acceptable for us to simplify and sometimes even misrepresent facts if it accomplishes our goal? Is activism based off of a simplified logic better than no activism at all? As long as we’re dealing with these complicated issues, we will continue asking the same questions. The Kony 2012 movement has provided a fascinating debate though and a intensive example of the importance of informed activism.
By Craig Moxley, Duke ’14