Community, character, civility, citizenship and commitment are by now familiar to Ohio University Bobcats as the convictions by which we strive to abide individually and collectively. Yet these values will be undermined if the university fails to address its complicity in human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The war in the Congo has claimed six million lives, making it the deadliest conflict since WWII. A litany of human rights concerns includes the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war. Meanwhile, the armed groups responsible for perpetrating these crimes earn hundreds of millions of dollars every year by selling tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold on the international market. In a situation reminiscent of the infamous use of “blood diamonds,” these conflict minerals are used in all electronics, but electronics companies are dragging their feet on the issue, tracing their supply chains and attempting to source responsibly only slowly and reluctantly.
As a major institutional consumer of electronics, and a heavy investor in electronics companies, Ohio University has the power and — we argue — the responsibility to call for an end to corporate complicity in the human rights abuses in the Congo.
Simple, cost-free steps the university could take include issuing a statement acknowledging the link between the violence and the products we buy and invest in, and calling on our business partners to clean up their supply chains. The university could also pledge to use the stock it already owns as votes for corporate responsibility when the issue comes up in shareholder resolutions, and declare a preference for DRC conflict-free products when they are available.
Alternatively, Ohio University could choose to remain silent on the issue. This would be an unacceptable choice in light of the magnitude of the crimes perpetrated in the Congo, the obvious involvement of the companies we support and, importantly, the university’s stated values.
According to the university’s own explanation of its “5 C’s” values, “Membership in the Ohio University community includes being involved and responsible members of… the global community.” Surely a conflict minerals policy would advance our collective responsible involvement in the global community.
Similarly, the university purports that “personal integrity and character both inside and outside of the classroom are inherent elements of Ohio University” and expects Bobcats “to commit to the highest standards of… ethical behavior.” Even passive complicity in rape and murder is difficult to justify from an ethical standpoint. But a strong public stance against the atrocities in the Congo would be a glowing example of institutional integrity.
The university’s values statement continues: “Members of the OHIO community contribute to the advancement of society …The OHIO citizen gives more than they take. They are responsible citizens both on and off campus, foster community involvement (and) become engaged citizens acting for the public good.” The university must make it clear that it is unwilling to take the Congo’s minerals without giving a commitment to human rights. It must become engaged in acting for the public good of a world without corporate sponsorship of physical and sexual violence.
Ask any OU administrator if he or she is a member of the OHIO community. If the answer is yes, surely administration should be expected to respect these official values at least as much as students, alumni, faculty and staff are. After all, if our leaders do not ensure that our official values are reflected in university policy, how can other Bobcats be expected to take the values seriously?
The university’s statement puts it best, aptly concluding: “Sincere and true commitment is practicing your beliefs and values. Once you have committed yourself to becoming a community member at OHIO, you commit to hold yourself and your fellow OHIO community members to these values.”
We appreciate the expressions of support the conflict-free campaign has generated from students, parents, alumni, faculty, community members and some administrators. But it is time to hold the university as a whole to the values of community, character, civility, citizenship and commitment. We hope you will join us in asking OU to pursue a sixth C: conflict-free.
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Ellie Hamrick is a junior anthropology major and the student leader of STAND Against Genocide. Dr. Sylvia Esser-Gleason is an OU parent and alumnus and the director of Project Congo. The Rev. Evan Young is campus minister for United Campus Ministries. Dr. Nicholas Creary is an assistant professor of African history at OU.