Conflict Minerals in Solar Panels by Holly Francis ’20

Firstly, here is my official research report write up on my class’s designated Blogger. It is quite a lengthy post, but one that I am deeply excited to share and contains information that truly needs to be spread:
For those who did not know much about conflict minerals… my research report explains what they are in detail. Here is an excerpt if you want a quick explanation:
“The issue of conflict minerals is a large social issue that is involved with more industries than just solar energy. Conflict minerals are considered gold and the three Ts: tungsten, tantalum, and tin. These four elements are used in nearly every electronic we have like laptops, cars, video game consoles, cell phones, and a vast amount of others. The purchase and use of conflict minerals help fund the DRC’s civil war as well as their rape culture. If you have followed this area at all within the past two decades, you will have seen that the region is plagued by civil war and corruption. The DRC’s civil war technically ended in 2003 and was the deadliest war since WWII with over 5 million deaths. However, this conflict still persists with violence and armed forces, and it is primarily funded by the area’s mineral wealth. Furthermore, the DRC is considered the “rape capital of the world” with forty-eight women being raped every hour according to studies discussed in The Guardian (Adetunji). Sadly, our purchases of electronics fund these acts of awful human rights violations.”
There are many ways that you can make changes as an individual regarding conflict minerals. First, spread the message! A major issue within this conflict is the general lack of awareness. Once people are aware of the issue in the first place, we can start making more of a push to get companies to verify their supply chain does not incorporate minerals from the DRC. Conflict minerals are not only in solar panels but are in a multitude of electronics as well.
Anyone in the Vermont area, if you want to get involved in community efforts, I encourage you to reach out to Lily Mason, one of the people I interviewed for my report, at as she has worked with the conflict minerals controversy throughout the past few years. She is also involved with the Vermont Ibutwa Initiative which has the goal of bringing awareness and solution-based thinking to the issue of conflict minerals and violence in the DRC.
In Lily’s words for how we should solve this problem:
“Engaged citizens need to nudge companies to clean up their supply chains. The Enough Project has been focusing on providing consumers with graphs that rank companies according to their conflict free mineral integration but do not have any solar companies included at this time. They’re highlighting major electronic and jewelry producers at this time. It is a part of their #DemandTheSupply of conflict free minerals campaign. Passing a city wide conflict minerals resolution to divest from unethical companies is one step but in regards to solar panels precisely, they need to see concerns from buyers so that this investment makes sense for the business.
There is also local 501c3 non profit, the VT Ibutwa Initiative, which is education folks locally to generate resources to support survivors of gender based sexual violence and their families. This is a direct way to assist in the healing and empowerment process of innocent people who have been traumatized in the pursuit of advancing technology.”
For those who do not have time or access to helping with the VT Ibutwa, tell your friends and family about this problem. Urge companies to become more transparent. Nothing will get done without public push. A great organization with the goal of increasing awareness and public pressure is the Enough Project which uses the #DemandtheSupply that Lily mentioned. I highly recommend you check the site out!
Stay curious. Question everything. Fight for what you are passionate about.
I still have a love for the solar energy industry, but that does not mean I cannot question their ethics regarding minerals from the DRC.
I welcome you to share the link to my research report on social media or send it to others so that they can, too, learn about an issue often hidden from the general media. Don’t forget to use the #DemandtheSupply if you share it on social media!
And, of course, let me know if you have any comments or questions!
Happy Thanksgiving,
Holly Francis
Environmental Studies & Policy, 2020
Student Outreach Liaison
Center for Service & Sustainability
Champlain College