I thought Bill and Melinda Gates cared about people in Africa and women’s safety

Conflict minerals are sought-after natural resources that are mined in conflict zones then sold to fund violence and war. Conflict minerals are found throughout central Africa — and likely in your cell phone, laptop, car, jewelry, etc. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country in central Africa, conflict minerals have fueled the First Congo War (1996–1997) and the Second Congo War (1998–2003), the world’s deadliest war since World War II. Though neither of the wars nor conflict minerals have gotten the press they deserve, CBS addressed how the Second Congo War was funded through sales of gold, and research shows how rape was used as a weapon of the war. The sexual violence in Congo is so bad that Congolese Dr Denis Mukwege received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for trying to end it.

Conflict minerals are used to make nearly every electronic and a lot of jewelry. Sad to say for any of us who’ve bought a phone or laptop or necklace, it was likely made with conflict minerals. This means we’ve funded armed groups perpetuating violence- sexual and otherwise. But wait, there’s a ray of light.

If you’ve only bought Apple products, good job! Buying Apple products is the best we can do right now to buy conflict free electronics. The chart below was put together by the Enough Project, an organization that works to end the problem of conflict minerals. As per Enough Project’s website, “a higher score indicates the company is making more progress on sourcing conflict-free minerals from Congo, while a lower score indicates little or no progress.” Which company did you buy from, and where does it stand in the rankings?

Enough Project’s company rankings for conflict free electronics and jewelry.

You can see Apple leads the pack in terms of ensuring that their products are conflict free with a score of 122 out of 135 — not bad, Apple.

However, what is up with Microsoft? Only 73 out of 135? The first sentence of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s website about their work in Africa states, “Africa is a continent with both rich resources and great challenges.” Rich in resources… that Bill and Melinda purchase with too little care for the working conditions of the adults and children extracting them. A press release on their foundation’s website boldly states, Melinda Gates Calls for Global Action to Save Women’s and Children’s Lives. I call for global action for Melinda, who purports to be a champion of women’s rights, to stop funding the warlords that enacted those 200,000 rapes by ensuring that Microsoft products are conflict-free.

Bill and Melinda, you can’t tell me don’t know about conflict minerals, how they’re connected to violence, and your connection to the violence. You can’t tell me in all your travels to the continent, starting in 1993, you never got wind of the following cycle:

  1. Mine tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold in terrible conditions. Force adults and children into slavery to mine conflict minerals as necessary.

Bill and Melinda, I love that old paradigm, “Do no harm.” The health interventions you provide in Western Congo do not negate your part in funding the war, violence, and rape in Eastern Congo. Your hands are not clean of the blood and semen spilt — until your products are 100% conflict free.

Working towards a world where pain and suffering isn’t caused by a fellow human. Twitter @corinne_shutack

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