Monday, July 19, 2010

Conflict minerals and Conflict Capitalism

I have recently been writing a series of blog entries related to "Conflict Minerals".

It could be that I am just trying to drive traffic to this blog and cash in on what has been termed one of the "biggest buzz" words of 2009.

But I believe strongly that our focus on the conflict mineral trade deserves scrutiny, not because it is inherently wrong, but because it is incomplete. Our concern about the way that minerals are sourced in Congo needs to be part of a larger concern about the way products are sourced, produced, and distributed around the world. I would argue that in the same breath that we talk about conflict minerals we should be talking about conflict corn, conflict fish and conflict cars, but more on that in my next entry.

For now one reader takes it even one step further with a look at our whole economic system and describes "conflict capitalism". If you think this position is taking it too far, check out a fascinating excerpt from the book

I'd love to hear more of your thoughts. Shall we take that popular buzz word and go global? When we talk about Conflict Minerals should we also be talking about Conflict Corn? Or shall we drop the specification all together and talk about "Conflict Capitalism"? Is the focus on one particular product positive, in that it gives us something that we feel we can actually do to change the system? Or is it negative, in that it ignores the larger problem?
Check out the thought-provoking comment below and I'd love to hear some more voices weigh in.

"What you are identifying is that the issue is really "conflict capitalism"--the division of labor of the world's economic system depends upon inequities and relies on supply chains which are often exploited by state and non-state entities to extract surpluses either by explicit force or its implication. We in the United States, but also
elites throughout the world, are often the ignorant beneficiaries of these supply chains.

The recent emphasis upon "fair trade" or the desire to expose the blood adhering to diamonds, coltan or other conflict minerals, are simplified means of alerting people in the west to the moral implications of their consumer choices. This is not a bad step in the wrong direction, if it offers a wider critique of the conflict inherent and inevitable in the way in which goods and wealth are distributed world wide. In other words, if we don't feel that by buying "fair trade coffee" or not purchasing "blood diamonds" we have done our part.

What the focus upon "blood diamonds" or conflict minerals does, and what your blog reveals is that it misdirects attention away from not only the local complexities of deeply intractable conflicts, mostly for the purpose of assuaging western guilt and to encourage simplistic fund-raising calls, but these approaches misdirect the attention from the underlying conflict which must and inevitably will result from neoliberal international policies which enrich us at the expense of the matatu tout, the water carrier, the coca cola vendor on the street, the second-hand clothing peddler, the coltan and diamond miner, the coffee producer, and on and on." (Thanks for the comment Dean!)

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