By now, most people in the compliance profession know that the Dodd-Frank Act created regulations on conflict minerals. However, fewer know the role young people played in agitating on this issue.
Eastern Congo is one of the earth’s few sources of rare minerals like coltan and cassiterite, essential for cellphones and other consumer electronics. It is also a killing field, a lawless region where the well-armed rule and where myriad armed groups have created a conflict singular in its brutality, characterized by rape and mutilation. The sale of minerals finances this conflict, and militias often enslave local villagers to work in the mines.
Finding a solution to this problem gained traction among young people. Columnists popular among younger readers highlighted the issue. The young staff at NGO’s like the Enough Project lobbied lawmakers and organized support. Young activists staged public events and signed petitions to persuade the private sector to stop using conflict minerals. Law students wrote notes on the subject, and tech-savvy young people are using social media to bring attention to it. Activists sent 400 letters to the SEC on proposed regulations. Even young celebrities like Ryan Gosling (age 31) have lent their voice to Eastern Congo.
The millenial generation is criticized as apathetic. But on international humanitarian issues, such as stopping mineral trade that fuels war and mass rape, young people are engaged and active. And the fact that this issue made it to the SEC shows that activism has teeth.
Mark Friedman is a 2011 NYU Law graduate and a criminal defense attorney in New York City. He is seeking to transition into FCPA compliance. He can be contacted here.