Student petition pushes university to consider conflict-free electronics


In an effort to encourage the university to consider buying the most conflict-free electronics possible, DePauw students filled a petition with more than 250 signatures, which they presented to President Brian Casey on Tuesday.
After efforts by panels discussing the morality of the use of conflict electronics were held in conflict studies classes, in the sustainability office and at Prindle Institute for Ethics, the group was able to obtain enough student support in just one week to form a petition.
Conflict electronics are electronics that contain materials such as minerals and metals that are harvested from areas of high violence. The petition is authored to pressure companies to provide data on where they obtain parts for their product to prevent them from buying conflict electronics.
Conflict free electronics are not yet available for purchase, nor is keeping track of where each individual part comes from, but efforts are being made to make it possible.
Junior Henry Dambanemuya, a computer science and conflict studies double major, along with four other current and former DePauw students authored what was first a white paper in the student government. That is now the petition.
“We need the products, but we need them conflict free,” Dambanemuya said.
Violence rages in areas such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo because of high concentrations of “the three t’s”: Tin, tungsten and tantalum. These minerals are vital in the production of processors and other parts inside electronics used every day.
Professor of computer science Doug Harms sponsored the petition.
“Cell phones look nice, pretty, shiny, but probably part of the profit is going into funding the violence,” Harms said.
Dambanemuya believes that consumers have the right to know where the product comes from. They are currently working to organize events around campus to help to raise awareness on the subject.
“Consumers have an obligation to know where things came from,” Harms said.
If passed, the petition it wouldn’t affect DePauw students individually. The impacts would be reflected in the university’s choices in purchasing bulk quantities of electronics, from printers in the library to computers and the computer lab.
“The university is making a decision one way or another based on if the product is conflict or not,” said Taylor Cantril, a graduate intern for sustainability at DePauw.
If the university needs new computers, and the two products they’re looking at are about in price and value, the petition warrants them to purchase the product that contains fewer conflict minerals.
“Computer services aren’t going to change,” Cantril said.
DePauw had already begun to implement movement toward purchasing conflict free electronics prior to the petition. Information services began considering where companies got their materials from last spring when the student government passed the white paper. The petition hopes to highlight this problem further.
“The campaign is about showing people care about conflict free products,” Damanemuya said.
The people surrounding the petition remain optimistic about the outcome and effects it can have. Other universities, such as Stanford University, have implemented similar petitions hoping to shed more light on the brutality that goes into the mining of the minerals.
“If you have the right people and they get passionate enough they can change market or cultural norms,” Cantril said.