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Divestment lite: Brandeis will review, but not stop, possible spending on ‘conflict minerals’

It’s irresponsible to ‘boycott’ an entire country

Brandeis University is changing its procurement policy for devices like computers and printers, to probe whether its suppliers are sourcing materials from a part of Africa where such sales are often used to finance terrorism.

Under the policy change, however, Brandeis isn’t technically stopping itself from buying devices made with “conflict minerals” such as tungsten that are sourced from mining operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The school’s own description of its sourcing practices also calls into question whether its policy change will actually reduce the market for conflict minerals, or simply buttresses Brandeis’s self-proclaimed “commitment to social justice.”

The Brandeis chapter of the genocide awareness movement STAND – originally Students Taking Action Now: Darfur – pushed the university this year to sign onto the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, Brandeis said in a press release last month.

The initiative is run by the Enough Project, which recruits students on college campuses to “support peace efforts” in the DRC. It was founded eight years ago. Brandeis is the 19th college to adopt its procurement policy, the project said in May.

The Enough Project is part of the liberal Center for American Progress, whose founder, the Democratic operative John Podesta, is now leading Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Though the Waltham News Tribune reported last week that Brandeis will now “ensure computers and other electronic equipment they purchase are not connected to killing, child abductions, and sexual violence” in the DRC, neither Brandeis nor the Enough Project characterize it that way.

The school will require “suppliers of desktop and laptop computers, printers, scanners, and copiers” to share with Brandeis their reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Brandeis release said.

The reports, which are required to “demonstrate due diligence in auditing the sources and provenance of potential conflict minerals in [suppliers’] supply chain,” are mandatory under the federal Dodd-Frank financial overhaul.

conflictminerals.ENOUGH_Project.flickrA conflict mineral is “any natural resource that is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or an adjoining country for the purpose of financing the conflict in that region,” according to the university press release.

The new policy, though, neither obligates Brandeis to stop purchasing components with minerals traced to the DRC nor appears to affect much of its existing supply chain.

The new Brandeis policy on “conflict minerals and electronics procurement” explicitly says the school is not boycotting minerals from “conflict zones” like the DRC, “since boycotting rare but critical minerals may not always be feasible, and since boycotting can have adverse secondary effects, such as reducing employment for those living in conflict zones and encouraging smuggling.”

Rather, it will “pursue policies aimed at certifying the transparency of mineral supply chains from conflict zones,” it said.

The new procurement policy says “many” of the university’s suppliers, including Apple, Cisco, Dell, HP, Intel, Konica Minolta, Microsoft and Xerox, already have auditing standards in place to ferret out conflict minerals.

For example, Apple’s most recent conflict-minerals report to the SEC, covering 2014, said 88 percent of its mineral and metal suppliers were conflict-free or in the process of being audited. Cisco’s 2014 report showed increased verification – and even non-audited sources would not fall under the new policy, as many are from Asia, Latin America or Europe.


A 2012 report by the Enough Project already listed companies such as Intel, HP, Apple, Dell and Microsoft as top-performing companies in terms of making progress to eradicate the use of conflict minerals in the supply chain.

Bill Schaller, a media director for the university, told The College Fix there was “There is no indication that any of our vendors are non-compliant with the federal law, but it is important for Brandeis to be on the right side of this issue. ”

The school’s new policy “underscores and codifies our institutional values” and “demonstrates that we chose not to contribute to the pain and suffering associated with conflict minerals.”

The effort to get Brandeis to change its policy apparently preceded the STAND chapter’s outreach earlier this year to Library & Technology Services and the procurement office.

The Enough Project’s May announcement featured a quote from an initiative leader at Brandeis, Gina Gkoulgkountina, who said she had worked for “3 years” to pass a “conflict-free procurement resolution” at Brandeis.

Representatives from the Enough Project did not respond to requests for comment on how the changes could affect Brandeis or examples of technology or electronics equipment that violated the new policy.

Brandeis was preceded by several high-profile institutions in approving the Enough Project resolution. The list includes American University, Ohio University, Emory University, the University of Colorado-Boulder, Duke and Stanford. The University of Pennsylvania was the first, in spring 2010.

Ohio University student leaders recounted in 2012 how they wielded media pressure to force an initially dismissive administration to consider their requests and form a new task force.

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IMAGES: Enough Project

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About the Author
Matt Lamb graduated in May 2015 from Loyola University-Chicago, where he majored in political science, and minored in economics and Catholic Studies. There, he was also an active member of Loyola Students for Life and Loyola College Republicans, and wrote for The Loyola Phoenix. He is currently a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. His work for The College Fix has been featured by National Review, Fox News, New York Times, and several other news outlets. He currently works as a Field Coordinator for Turning Point USA.