Cal Poly student proposes ban on electronics using 'conflict minerals'

Katie Hoselton
Katie Hoselton Courtesy photo

A resolution proposed by a Cal Poly political science student hopes to prevent the university’s purchase of electronics made using “conflict minerals” that are mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo and sold to finance war efforts there.

Katie Hoselton successfully passed her resolution in the Academic Senate on May 20.

The resolution now is before Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong, who will consider signing off on Hoselton’s initiative.

Armstrong is consulting with senior administrators — including the provost and vice presidents — before making a decision on the issue, according to university spokesman Matt Lazier.

Minerals such as tin, gold, tantalum and tungsten are used in the manufacturing of electronic products, including computers, mobile phones and MP3 players.

The resolution encourages the university to research purchases of products that may be using conflict minerals and make a commitment to buy “conflict-free products.”

An estimated 5 percent to 20 percent of the world’s supply of these minerals comes from mines in the DRC, though not all mines in the country are used to finance warfare, Hoselton said.

According to the resolution, “the United States Senate and the House of Representatives have found that armed groups bear responsibility for massive atrocities in the eastern Congo.”

Militant groups earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year by trading conflict minerals, and armed groups fight to control mines and smuggling routes, murdering and raping civilians in the process, according to the Enough Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group of policymakers and activists that focuses on stopping atrocities around the world.

“The hope is that with enough pressure from universities and institutions, companies will begin to trace their supply chains to the source and ensure that the minerals they use in their products are conflict-free,” Hoselton said.

“The resolution would make Cal Poly acknowledge the conflict in Congo, and consider conflict minerals when making purchasing decisions in the future,” she added. “This involves putting pressure on tech companies such as Apple and Dell to trace their supply chains to know whether or not they are supporting conflict mines in Congo.”

Hoselton, who hopes to work in international politics, was the university’s 2013 representative in the Panetta Institute for Public Policy’s congressional internship program.

The senior, who graduates this weekend, became interested in boycotting conflict minerals as an intern with the non-governmental organization Jewish World Watch in 2011.

“This conflict is so unique because rather than the enemy being a corrupt or malicious dictator, the perpetrator is our own system of supply and demand which operates via the international global supply chain,” Hoselton said.

“Myself, my university and the companies I buy from all play a distinct role in this chain. Once I knew this, I decided I would do everything in my power to bring attention to this conflict, in hopes of ultimately bringing it to an end.”