Conflict Minerals: Summary of Initiatives

I thought it would be good to get an overview of various initiatives underway to help regulate the minerals trade in the eastern DRC. The basic idea is to reduce the amount armed groups are profiting from the minerals trade. Different scholars have different views about the importance of the minerals trade in the conflict. Some groups, such as ENOUGH, have portrayed the conflict as one driven largely by armed groups fighting over resources. Others, such as Belgian academic Koen Vlassenroot and Resource Consulting Services, place mining in the larger context of institutional collapse and emphasize the role that mining plays in providing a livelihood for unemployed youths.

I have suggested that mining was not at the root of the conflict, nor will cutting conflict minerals out of supply chains end the conflict. However, this is strategically perhaps one of the best approaches – it could weaken armed groups, transform the political economy of the region and strengthen the Congolese state apparatus. (In a very ideal world).

It is pretty amazing how this issue has been able to mobilize various constituencies, more than MONUC drawdown, perhaps equally as much as sexual violence. For the many skeptics of these two approaches (sexual violence and conflict minerals) – usually because of how reductive they are – we need to consider the fact that there are two bills currently in Congress on this issue and Hillary Clinton visited the Congo and has tasked her Undersecretary of State Bob Hormats to come up with a strategy for conflict minerals. This past week, Stanford University has recommended that its Board of Trustees take conflict minerals in the Congo into consideration in its investment portfolio. They said:

We recommend that the University vote in favor of well-written and reasonable shareholder resolutions that ask companies for reports on their policies and efforts regarding their avoidance of conflict minerals and conflict mineral derivatives.

Other initiatives underway are:

1. Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): They are currently drafting voluntary guidelines for due diligence in the supply chain. This is in response to calls from the G-8 meeting in L’Aquila last year and pressure from member states. I attended a workshop on their current draft in Paris last week – the guidelines are supposed to be a risk-based approach for companies to assess how risky their trade with the Congo is in terms of potential complicity in supporting armed groups, promoting corruption and child labor and harming the environment. Hopefully this will come to fruition by the end of the year.

2. UN Group of Experts on the DRC: The Security Council asked the GoE to draft recommendations for due diligence in the eastern DRC. Their interim report is due any time now, and their final report will be out in October this year.

3. Global Witness is pushing for companies to immediately begin supply chain due diligence and for host governments to hold companies responsible for violations of the OECD guidelines for for multinational enterprises.

4. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR): This is a regional body that is promoting economic and political cooperation in the region. A few weeks ago, member states (including Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi) committed themselves to a draft proposal that has each member state carrying out certification of minerals in its own territory and the creation of a regional database of minerals trade. In addition, there would be third party audits of these supply chains carried out by independent auditors. (I don’t think the draft is public yet, so I will reserve comment for now).

5. The tin industry has begun its own tin certification scheme under its international tin body ITRI. They will be beginning a pilot program in the Kivus soon. This is the scheme that the Congolese government is backing and may be the means of certification they mention in the ICGLR draft. (See here for an article criticizing the ITRI approach)

6. The German government is also involved in a custody chain of natural resources through its Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), and they are working with the Congolese government and the ICGLR, but I must admit I haven’t been following this closely.

7. The US government, as noted above, is pushing forward with legislation and perhaps even through State Department. The senate has also asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to draft a report for them on what is currently being done in the sector.