“Every day you may hold a piece of the Congo in the palm of your hand.”
That’s the opening line of a new VR film from the Google Conflict Minerals Campaign entitled The Journey of Gold. The powerful 360-degree experience explores an artisanal gold mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The film’s featured Nyamurhale Mine in the DRC is part of a vast industrial system that excavates metals used in electronics like tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold. These metals are known as “3TG” or “conflict minerals” since they come from regions where civil war has been raging for decades.
Since 1998, more than five million people have died in the DRC. Many of those deaths can be attributed to gold mining and other resource extraction-related conflicts.
Alyssa Newman, Google’s Conflict Minerals and Sustainability Program Manager, said that the film’s goal is to raise awareness about their efforts to implement responsible practices for sourcing these metals.
According to Newman, people outside the DRC need to understand “how resources get from a mine in the Congo to the phones and devices we use every day.”
Gold is a particularly contentious resource in the DRC and throughout central Africa, and the Nyamurhale Mine is among many which have experienced high rates of criminal activity like smuggling and unlawful mining.
According to the film, “more than ninety-five percent of artisanal gold mined in the DRC is illegally mined and smuggled into adjoining and other countries.” And the miners themselves have historically been cut out of the majority of the profits from their labor.
However, the Nyamurhale Mine has worked to implement systems to aid conflict-free gold sourcing.
Google’s Conflict Minerals Program works with NGOs, government organizations and industry groups to create more responsible practices in the mines in these areas. For example, the are working to end child labor and quell military interference and thieving of resources. Another one of the project’s aims is to kickstart economic development in the area.
The website for the project states that their focus is also on lessening environmental impacts and improving living conditions for people who make products we use every day. The team goes on to say they “expect the highest ethical standards throughout [their] supply chain and promote meaningful social change at supplier sites and nearby communities.”
Google partnered with the Responsible Artisanal Gold Solutions Forum and StoryUp XR for this project.
Michael Marconi, Google Communications Senior Associate in AR and VR, described the virtual experience of the film as a way to understand “how artisanal gold is produced, and meet the miners and leaders who are working to produce legal, safe, and conflict-free gold.”
“The Journey of Gold” went live on Friday, September 14th.
It is available on com, the Discovery VR app (iOS, Android, Daydream) and YouTube. It is compatible with VR viewers like Google Cardboard or Daydream View. Jump, Google’s VR platform employing VR cameras and automated stitching, was used to capture and produce the film.
“Virtual reality allows us to step inside a story to understand a particular issue by creating connections to people and places we may otherwise never see,” Newman said.
Image Credit: Michael Marconi and Alyssa Newman