STAND puts forth proposal to avoid conflict minerals
The Faculty Senate’s most recent meeting saw an idea several months in the making come to fruition as members of the Brandeis chapter of student organization Students Taking Action Now in Darfur made a presentation to the Senate on conflict minerals.
Director of Strategic Procurement John Storti said in an interview with the Justice that one of STAND’s student leaders approached Procurement Services toward the end of the spring semester to inquire about any University policies regarding use of conflict minerals.
“Basically, the response to [the student] was why don’t you work on this and come back with something and see what we [Procurement Services] can do,” Storti said.
STAND’s proposal included requests that the University consider electronics suppliers that avoid the use of conflict minerals and that the University phase out conflict mineral-containing electronics over time. STAND presented its proposal to the Faculty Senate, and Faculty Senate Chair Prof. Thomas Pochapsky (CHEM) announced at the faculty meeting last Thursday that the Senate will investigate how to implement this proposal.
Conflict resources are titled as such because they are harvested in areas where the population is in conflict. Oftentimes, the harvesting of the resources harms the area’s lower-class citizens while fueling the region’s ongoing violence. Said exploitation also benefits foreign groups in Rwanda, Uganda and other countries, as well as oppressive militant groups such as the Congolese army.
“As framed and presented [during a separate meeting with STAND members in October], [the proposal] seems like a reasonable thing; it seems in line with Brandeis’s professed values,” said Vice Provost, Chief Information Officer and University Librarian John Unsworth in an interview with the Justice. “The general tenor of the discussion was a constructive effort to see if we could, as a university, raise some consciousness on vendors and, you know, cut off our nose despite our face in the process.”
Unsworth also said that he believes there are a lot of “complicated issues” in the matter, including how to ask vendors—especially small vendors—to remove the materials and what the University should do if the cost of conflict-free products is higher than that of their conflict counterparts.
“The potential for expense would arise if … we had two possible vendors or a certain set of items and one of them was less expensive and less conflict-free and the other was more expensive and more conflict-free,” Unsworth said.
Still, Unsworth maintained his view that STAND’s proposal was “practical,” acknowledging that the proposal’s language allows for some flexibility in the procurement process.
“[STAND is] just asking that [conflict minerals] be a consideration in procurement, that we start to ask questions,” Unsworth explained.
Yet Unsworth also noted that one of the issues with the proposal is that the University is buying an increasing number of cloud services—that is, Internet services available to users via off-site servers, which may or may not use conflict minerals. “We don’t own that electronic equipment, but we procure our services from people who own that equipment. How do we treat that kind of thing?” he asked. “These are all questions that can be raised and answered and perhaps revisited periodically from time to time.”
Likewise, Storti said that he believes the loose terms of the proposal invite many questions and debates.
“I think we have to define what we’re talking about in terms of electronics,” Storti said. “But what’s really feasible? … [W]e want to make sure that whatever we implement we can actually uphold and do.”
Meanwhile, as the Brandeis chapter of STAND prepares for its Dec. 3 meeting with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, the group persists as a whole on a larger basis.
According to STAND’s website, the group as a whole partnered at an international level with another anti-genocide group called Raise Hope for Congo, a human rights campaign launched by the Enough Project—also an anti-genocide group—and aimed at eastern Congolese people. Both groups operate for the international community and power the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative. The initiative, which aims to ban conflict minerals from college campuses, is currently represented in 166 schools—Brandeis included—with locations spanning five continents.
CFCI pressures universities “to commit to measures that pressure electronics companies to responsibly invest in Congo’s minerals sector, students are voicing the demand for conflict-free products from Congo,” according to the Raise Hope for Congo website.
After the Faculty Senate meeting at which STAND presented its proposal, both CFCI and STAND have indicated through Facebook postings that they feel optimistic about their accomplishments, although they both acknowledge that their work in achieving their goals is not yet done.
Storti also noted that the brunt of the work ahead comes down to analyzing the University’s actions.
“You have to look at this holistically,” he said. “[T]his is great; this is a wonderful starting point, but I think we really have to dig deeper into this to better understand what it is we’re actually talking about and how it affects what we’re doing at Brandeis University.”
—Tate Herbert contributed reporting.