European Parliament vote on conflict minerals regulation
Ethical Consumer joins call for tighter regulation
Tomorrow the European Parliament will consider whether to bring in tighter controls and regulations on the use of conflict minerals. However campaigners and non-governmental organisations argue that if passed in their current state they will not have a meaningful impact against the funding of armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Conflict minerals refer to the four minerals tungsten, tin, tantalum and gold which are mined in the DRC and the surrounding countries. The profits from the mining of these minerals – an estimated $185 million per year – have been a major source of income for armed groups in the region.
Many of the minerals end up in Western supply chains, in particular in electronic products such as laptops and mobile phones. Politicians and campaigners have been calling for tighter regulations around the sourcing and the use of minerals which are linked to heinous human rights abuses and environmental damage.
The European legislation due to be voted on on Wednesday 20th May is loosely based on the Dodd-Frank Act which was passed in by the US Senate in 2010. The Act forced publicly listed companies in the US to report annually on how they ensured that the minerals sourced for their products had not been used to fund militias.
According to a report by the Enough Project in 2014 the Dodd-Frank Act was having some impact on reducing the number of mines being run by armed groups in the Congo. It had also led to several initiatives being implemented to certify conflict-free minerals such as the Conflict-Free Smelter Programme.
Yet a recent report by Amnesty International and Global Witness found nearly 80 percent of the US public companies that reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2014 were failing to adequately check and disclose whether their products contained conflict minerals. The report highlighted the need for stronger requirements of companies to audit their supply chains.
Calling for tighter European legislation
That is why on Monday 18th May Ethical Consumer along with 156 other organisations - including Amnesty International, Global Witness, and SOMO - signed an open letter calling for the European Parliament to strengthen current proposals which are due to be voted on tomorrow.
The current proposals were put forward by the European Commission in March 2014 and if passed would be entirely voluntary, giving 300-400 importers of those minerals the option of sourcing responsibly and reporting publicly on their efforts to do so through a process known as “supply chain due diligence”. The law would only cover a tiny proportion of EU companies involved in the trade, and leaves out the tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold that enter the EU in products that we use every day.
The European Parliament’s International Trade Committee has since proposed some mandatory requirements – but these also apply to just a small fraction of the industry.
The vast majority of companies involved – including some of those importing directly from conflict-affected and high-risk areas – would have no obligation to source responsibly. Companies importing products containing these minerals would be left entirely off the hook.
The letter calls on Members of the European Parliament to:
- Require all companies bringing minerals into the EU – whether in their raw form or contained in products – to carry out supply chain due diligence and publicly report in line with international standards.
- Be flexible enough to cover, in the future, other resources that may be linked to conflict, human rights abuses and corruption.