From the TUC

Violence against women in the DRC: Who’s complicit?

25 Nov 2011, by in International

Unite to end violence against women

25 Nov: UN Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Sexual and gender-based violence in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is a human tragedy which must be denounced and brought to an end.

There is no excuse for the cruelty of those who torture and rape women and girls on a regular basis. There is no excuse either for the government of the DRC which systematically fails to enforce its laws and maintains a situation of impunity in which perpetrators are never prosecuted.

But the conflict in the DRC, and the gender-based violence that characterizes it, is sustained and fuelled by financial gains and profits.

The region is rich of minerals including gold and the infamous 3 T (tin, tantalum, and tungsten) used to make mobile phones, computers, DVD players or video game systems among others. The electronics industry is the largest consumer of minerals from Eastern Congo and it injects considerable amount of money into the supply chain out of which the different armed groups prosper. They are the main perpetrators of massive rapes and related crimes.

To mark UN Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the ITUC has published a special report into the situation in the region. We’ve found that most mine workers in Eastern Congo are informal small scale miners, with no right and no voice. They work 10 hours a day for less than a dollar. The minerals they extract will pass in the hands of various traders before being shipped off probably to East Asia where they are refined into metal to be used by electronics companies.

There have been several national and international initiatives taken recently, aimed at regulating the trading of minerals from the DRC. Multinational companies have been requested to take up their responsibilities too and voluntary guidelines have been adopted. But convincing results are not yet on the table and mine workers continue to live and work in inhumane conditions. The lives of thousands of women and girls continue to be destroyed and the prospects for the babies born of rapes, with a high incidence of HIV/AIDS, are grim.

So the question is: who can take responsibility for what happens in the supply chain? While pointing at the Congolese government, the armed groups, local and multinational companies might appear to be easy, the truth is that nothing seems able to put an end to this bloody business.

In fact, our over-consumption of electronics drives the demand for minerals. In rich countries the life cycle of a cell phone is 18 months. Only 15 to 20% of electronic products are recycled. The reality is that our hi-tech-based life has become dependent on a freely flowing supply of 3 T. Does that explain the inaction of several governments? Does that explain the voluntary non-binding nature of international initiatives?  Aren’t we, as consumers, silently complicit?

Our study aims at shedding some light on the supply chain of one of the most successful industries of our modern world, and its terrible impact on many thousands of women and girls every year. We hope that after reading it, you will look at your computer and cell phone in a different way!

NOTE: The report “Violence against women in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo: whose Responsibility? Whose Complicity?” is available to download in pdf format from the ITUC website.
GUEST POST: Sharan Burrow is General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and former President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).
TUC