In a recent decision by the RIT Student Government, a resolution was passed unanimously in favor of more sustainable procurement practices. The resolution deals specifically with minerals such as columbite, tantalite, types of tin, and gold. Ntekereze Enock, a fourth-year student at RIT led the advocacy effort. Here is what he has to say about the policy he has crafted.
So Enock tell me a little about yourself!
My name is Enock Ntekereze. I’m a fourth year student at RIT studying International and Global Studies and Economics.
Recently you led the charge to pass a resolution on conflict minerals within Student Government, how does it work exactly? Can you tell me by what mechanisms it acts on the university?
Sure, the resolution basically says that the university will practice vetting before they purchase electronic products to ensure they’re not purchasing that have conflict minerals in those products. The way that it works, is that every publicly traded company in the US is required by law to produce reports on how they’re eliminating a certain percentage of conflict minerals in their products. When institutions like RIT go to purchase electronic products, they’ll take a look at those reports or ask the company to produce a report to see if they’re eradicating the use of conflict minerals. If there are two companies, one using less conflict minerals and one using more we will prefer the one using less.
This resolution is to ensure that RIT is not contributing to human rights abuses or conflicts in central Africa and around the world.
This is not something new for RIT. I’ve met with some people from the procurement products to see what sort of practices are already in place. What I learned is that even though they don’t require companies to be sustainable, they regularly request reports on sustainability and recycling for review and consideration. This resolution is to ensure that RIT is not contributing to human rights abuses or conflicts in central Africa or around the world. Our goal is not to discourage electronics companies from mining and sourcing in the Congo, we just want to encourage them to responsibly invest in the Congolese mining sector.
Some of the questions raised when you were presenting in senate dealt with students who use technology as part of their education like photography or computer science students. How do you think RIT can strike a balance between educational enrichment and responsible consumption?
I think the first step is to be aware of what is going on and what is in your products. We can’t do anything if we’re not aware. Now when we find out some of the things we’re purchasing are contributing to human rights violations in Africa, like a camera, for example, we can look for alternatives. If there are no alternatives, the Dodd-Frank Law enables us to demand that companies change their behavior. We can also exert our purchasing power and hit them where it hurts, in the wallet. Especially when you’re an institution like RIT that buys millions worth of electronics in bulk. They will listen then.
These minerals are not causing these conflicts but they are funding the perpetrators. This is how they sustain themselves…
You can really articulate this well, is this something you decided to do independently or do you think this is a part of a larger movement?
It’s both to me. I was born in Rwanda, my parents were from in Burundi. They fled conflict in Burundi which wasn’t directly associated with conflict minerals. After the genocide in Rwanda, many people fled to the Congo. My grandmother and uncle were some of the folks who died in that conflict. To think about the millions of people who have died in the congo… These minerals are not causing these conflicts but they are funding the perpetrators. This is how they sustain themselves, by using the money from the sale of minerals to buy weapons and to maintain control of the miners. They also use this money to corrupt government officials.
This is also a part of an initiative called the Enough Project. I found out about the Enough project a few years ago while I was attending a talk by its founder, John Prendergast. I knew nothing about it before that. After speaking on their work in Africa I wanted to do something about that like they were, I wanted to be a part of that effort.
At the heart of it, when you inform someone of what is going on and show them how they’re connected to it, deep down they want to take charge as well.
I really appreciate you indicating the idea that these minerals don’t cause conflict, but rather they contribute to it. Through our consumption of products with conflict minerals and a few degrees of separation, we are enabling conflict. The resolution you pushed through Student Government passed pretty effortlessly, or you certainly made it look that way. What do you think are some next steps for RIT to practice more sustainable policy, purchasing, and practice to mitigate negative our impacts across the globe?
RIT is one of the institutions leading the charge in sustainable practices. As an institution we’re also expanding globally. Knowing that we are leading the charge we need to lead by example for other institutions who are expanding. We have to not only know how practices are advancing but also to keep pace with those practices. Making sure we’re contributing to growth, better understanding, and better practices to protect the environment and its inhabitants.
Is there anything else you’d like to add? What do you think you’ve learned and where are you headed personally?
When this resolution passed unanimously it was a great personal accomplishment for me. When I first went into this I wasn’t sure who would care. Who would care about some people so far away in Africa? At the heart of it, when you inform someone of what is going on and show them how they’re connected to it, deep down they want to take charge as well. This has opened me up to new possibilities and new issues whether about other people or the environment. This has taught me a lot and I hope to do this more in the future, to practice sustainable living and to educate others.
Well on behalf of the Student Environmental Action League and certainly other students on this campus who care about sustainability I’d like to thank you for your work! I’m grateful for how passionate you are about this.
No problem, I hope that other students will start doing the same as well, and that they’ll pass it on. Not just business institutions but governments and individuals as well. It starts right at home.
We stop recording and begin to talk more casually until we both loop back to the topic. After some discussion around how the situation in Central Africa and other places can improve, Enock had this to share:
Those people on the bottom, whose voices are not being heard, we need to listen to them.
Do you think that while we can reduce pressure from the outside, the true, long-lasting change, will be something sovereign? Will the resolution of these conflicts and exploitations come from within the country itself?
Yes, it must come from within the country. And we must work with those people, and other organizations working to empower the people. Helping them, giving them the resources they need, even when their government has failed them.
Empowerment over guidance then?
Yes absolutely. These people are capable. A perception of the west is…
*I put my hands on my hips in mock confidence* Here we come to save the day, the white savior! All the case studies of all the bad foreign aid around the world could break a bookshelf, I’m sure of it.
Those people on the bottom, whose voices are not being heard, we need to listen to them. I’ll send you a video where you can see people down in the Congo talking about how conflict minerals are affecting them. You can read about what has been going on since the US has been pressuring companies to be more transparent about this. It’s not just the Congo either, it’s my neighbors in Africa and other countries like China too.