When discussing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the issue of ‘conflict minerals’ is almost always a part of the conversation. Conflict minerals refers to the tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold (3TG) that are mined in the DRC’s eastern region, and have a history of being used as a source of funding for various armed militia groups that operate in the region and terrorize the local population. The systematic looting of the DRC’s natural resources has helped to fuel endless armed conflict in the DRC, the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.
Wars are very expensive. You cannot question whether there would be more than 20 years of war in the Congo if there were no minerals to fund the violence. The link is clear.
The conflict minerals issue garnered attention in the United States largely because the 3TG minerals are found in all of our electronic devices: smartphones, laptops, tablets, TVs, etc. The idea that a consumer purchasing the latest gaming console or smartphone could be contributing to violence in Congo did not sit well with some consumers, activists, and members of Congress.
In 2010, Congress passed a wide reaching piece of legislation entitled the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank). Section 1502 of Dodd-Frank mandated that publicly traded companies in the United States that use any of these four minerals in their products must complete “due diligence” reporting with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). These reports required companies to disclose whether minerals used in their products were being mined, or ‘sourced’, from the region, and if they were, to determine the exact source of the minerals.
The goal was to improve transparency, and force companies to complete a basic assessment of their supply chain. Unfortunately, many of the companies that completed the first round of reporting did not fully follow through with their assessments; and since inception, the law has been met with strong resistance from many Republican lawmakers and businesses.
Earlier this month, we alerted our supporters of the latest threat to Section 1502. Rep. Bill Huizenga introduced an amendment to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act that would mandate that the SEC could not use funds appropriated in the Act to enforce Section 1502; essentially making the law unenforceable.
The amendment passed, largely along partisan lines, with almost all Republican members of the House voting in favor, and almost all Democrats voting against the amendment. Some Republican Congress members, those with the most experience in the region, broke away from the fold and voted against the amendment. (A full account of how members voted can be found here.) The Act has not yet become law, and for now Section 1502 is still enforceable, but this will likely not be the last threat to Section 1502.
While Section 1502 has been met with resistance, there are some companies that are going above and beyond the reporting requirements of Dodd-Frank, and working to ensure a conflict-free supply chain. Intel was one of the first companies to continue sourcing minerals from the DRC while ensuring that their supply chain was conflict-free. Apple has also stated that their entire supply chain is being audited for the presence of conflict minerals.
Section 1502 is the bare minimum requirement that could be placed on U.S. companies. It requires only that companies publicly disclose where their minerals are coming from. The mandate is comparable to requiring the meatpacking industry to disclose where their cows are from.
What would happen if this law disappears? We don’t have to imagine, we already know the answer. Dark and unaccountable supply chains will further support violence in the region. Global Witness recently reported that, “In just one year, up to $17 million of gold produced by Kun Hou Mining, the Chinese-owned company, went missing and was likely smuggled out of Congo into international supply chains.” This is the alternative to not having the due diligence requirements of Dodd-Frank.
Global Witness also uncovered that in Shabunda, a territory in South Kivu province, that same mining company had paid members of the Rai Mutumboki, an armed militia group, thousands of dollars and provided them with AK-47 assault rifles in order to secure access to a gold rich territory. Shockingly, it was also reported that members of the Rai Mutumboki regularly earned up to $25,000 per month by taxing workers from the Chinese company operating in the region.
Let’s be clear: section 1502 is not a panacea, and it will not resolve all of the conflict and corruption that is plaguing the DRC. It is, however, `a step in the right direction. More enforcement is needed to ensure companies are incentivized to follow in the footsteps of corporations like Intel and Apple. Defunding or repealing this mandate will only reverse all the progress that has been made to decouple Congo’s mineral wealth from various rebel groups.
Going forward, the U.S. government should work to strengthen Section 1502, improve the ability of the DRC government to regulate the mining sector, cut down on corruption, and provide security for its people.
Defunding or repealing Section 1502 shouldn’t be up for debate. Requiring U.S. companies to be transparent about their sourcing is the bare minimum that can be required of them. Due diligence reporting shouldn’t be a question, it should be a given.
**This post was co-authored by Mike Brand, Director of Policy and Programs at JWW and Amani Matabaro Tom, Director of ABFEC and a civil society leader from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.**