With the global success of high-tech innovations such as the Internet, mobile devices, business computing, and numerous others, the world's electronics industry has become a major market for the mineral resources found in regions such as Africa's Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This presents much needed opportunities for local communities to generate income that can help improve conditions and drive investment for the future. But too often, and for too long, the wealth locked within those valuable resources has been stolen to fund corruption and conflict.
Legislation, such as the Dodd-Frank Act now in force in the U.S., and a similar initiative taking shape in the European Union, is now involving large corporations including electronics businesses in a major drive to stop the illegal plunder of minerals such as tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold ores. The video below provides an overview:
At Kemet, we believe the best way to ensure compliance is to go further, and to become closely involved with the community surrounding the conflict-free coltan (tantalum ore) mine we are working with in Kisengo, in the DRC. To us, sustainability is crucial, and that means ensuring that the mine workers, their families and communities can see tangible improvements in their lives as the results of their labor. This requires ensuring that trading is fair, that working conditions are good and seen to be improving, and that the wider community can benefit from services such as better health, education and security. How can we, as a technologically-focused component producer, achieve all this?
"Not by ourselves," is one answer. We brought together a group of organizations with the capabilities required to implement our initiative Partnership for Social and Economic Sustainability. These organizations include the Kisengo Foundation (which defines the needs of the community), Mining and Mineral Resources (a trusted organization with experience and a good reputation in the region), the Coopérative des Artisanaux Miniers du Congo (which manages the mine and ensures fair and safe working conditions), and the Upright Africa Project (a medical foundation based in the US).
Kemet initially committed $1.5 million to the Partnership's social program, which has so far succeeded in building a new school with capacity for over 1,000 children, as well as a new clinic with modern facilities and extra staff trained by Upright Africa. The partnership has also completed improvements to the water supply and roads, and installed solar street lighting.
But our role is about more than simply writing a check. Kemet employees are actively involved on-site. Personally, I've had the opportunity to visit the village several times, spending time with our partners and the people of Kisengo to see for myself the challenges the community is facing and the successes that are being achieved. We are thankful for the dedication of everyone who has contributed to the Partnership, and we are committed, long term, to ensure that the community of Kisengo will benefit for generations to come. It has been said often that "it takes a village." I believe additionally this work will need to occur "village by village."
This is our definition and view of how sustainability needs to happen. Ultimately it's one of the most important measures of our actions.