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"If we lived there, we would want someone to help us"

Earlier this week, a colleague shared a letter that brought both a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. It was a public letter from the 6th, 7th and 8th graders of the Foothills School of Arts and Science in Boise, Idaho, and was addressed to Mary Shapiro, the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The letter was motivated by the students’ concern for the students and families of their sister school in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It added their voices to the growing call for strong SEC rules on the purchase and use of Congolese “conflict minerals.” The Dodd-Frank Wallstreet Reform and Consumer Protection Act, passed in 2010, included a provision requiring that companies track and disclose conflict minerals used in their products, but two years later the SEC has not yet issued the necessary rules to implement this provision.

It did my heart good to learn of these young people - so far removed from the DRC – reminding the SEC of the urgent need to respond to the violence and abuses arising from the fight for control over the extraction and sale of these minerals. It was wonderful to read how committed these students were to ensuring that the SEC issue strong conflict mineral rules . . . and issue them soon.

While far too many politicians and corporate lobbyists here in DC drone on about how such requirements would put an undue, or even unmanageable, burden on the economic actors involved, the letter from these young people put things into perspective, simply and succinctly. They pointed out that the real issue is that the fight for these minerals has lead to rape, mutilation and murder, of young and old, at the hands of armed groups. They also stated another obvious truth: the electronics companies most likely to be impacted by these regulations are not only some of the most profitable companies active in the US today, but also some of the most innovative. As the students stated: “We are confident that they can afford to support human rights and figure out how to make this process work, even in the very complex situation presented in the DRC”.

They ended their letter with an equally simple and compelling statement for why we must support the Congolese people, who are being victimized by those willing to use any means to grab these minerals:

“If we lived there, we would want someone to help us.”

Photo courtesy of ENOUGH Project.