From June 20-21st, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) organized a conference on extractive supply chain which focused mostly on tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold originating from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and adjoining countries. The conference was intended to provide information and updates on responsible supply chain, sourcing mechanisms and ways to support solutions to the humanitarian crisis related to the illicit DRC mineral trade.

This conference was held after GeSI and EICC released their first publication of the list of smelters complying with the Conflict-Free Smelter (“CFS”) program on June 1st. The CFS program is voluntary and provides an independent third party evaluation of a smelter’s mineral sourcing and assesses whether the materials processed by the smelter originated from conflict-free sources. This program is one of many that aim to provide guidelines for companies to purchase conflict-free minerals.

However, not all minerals from high risk or conflict areas are conflict minerals. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), whoseguidance for responsible supply chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas is widely accepted, supports this position.

The conference was well attended by investors, non-profit organizations, governments, legal firms, jewelry retail, electronic, automobile and airspace industries. The huge interest in this issue and the incredible turn out for the conference is credited to section 1502 of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, a law which was written to end illicit trade of conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and adjoining countries.

According to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the rules to govern this law will be made public between August and December 2011. During a stakeholders meeting with some officials from SEC, AFJN urged Commissioner Elisse B Walter to not delay the release of the rules not only because of the negative economic impact it has on the Congolese mining industry, but more importantly because the time to hold those involved in the illicit trade accountable is overdue and the trade continues to claim more victims. In a letter to the SEC Chairmen Mary L Shapiro, the Catholic Episcopal Conference of the Democratic Republic of the Congo stated that “[E]very day that the reporting requirements are not fully and vigorously implemented means one more day our people are subject to suffering and violence.”

AFJN also called Commissioner Walter’s attention to the fact that above all, the Dodd-Frank law was meant to address the humanitarian crisis related to the illicit trade of conflict minerals from DRC. Likewise, the development and income from mineral sales can only be enjoyed and improve the lives of the living, not the dead. Henceforth, we must make protecting lives a priority above the loss of income for sales which the Congolese government is complaining about and the business community’s push to delay or weaken the rules.

Arguments in favor of strengthening the Dodd-Frank Act are many. First the death toll as a result of the economic war in the DRC since 1996 is estimated in millions and counting. Rape was never widely spread until the war started. Kinja Bashengezi, a widow who lost seven children and her husband in 1998, told AFJN that there was peace and more to life before coltan was discovered in the Kivus. She feels that her loss has been other people’s gain. Commissioner Walter said that the rules will certainly make sure the humanitarian crisis is addressed and also will ensure they do not drive investors away from resources from DRC. At the conference, the Congolese Ministry of Mine’s delegates complained about the loss of income from the mineral trades while the Rwandan delegate explained that there are mining sites all over Rwanda. This difference in perspective is rooted in the fact that minerals from the DRC have and continue to be transported into neighboring countries including Rwanda and are recorded as their production despite not having sufficient mines to justify their export numbers. However, both countries stated that they are setting up compliance mechanisms with the Dodd-Frank law. The most surprising news for the Congolese delegation was the reference to the Congolese national army as a militia because members of the army are involved in the mineral illicit trade. In fact, because the US State Department lists the Congolese army as part of the illicit network trade, it is legal to treat the Congolese army as a militia under Dodd-Frank. Sourcing natural resources from conflict zones of DRC and other conflict areas has caused death and brought a lot of pain to millions of people globally while companies benefit. On Wednesday, July 13th in Kalemie, the Katanga’s provincial minister of Mining, Ms Therese Lukenge told a delegation of US and UN auditors who were investigating the traceability of minerals produced in North of the province that: “[T]he minerals of Katanga are not to be confused with those of the North and South Kivu.” The two Kivu provinces and Maniema are the most affected by the conflict fueled by the mineral trade. The US attempt to help stop companies and individuals from financing and fueling such conflict in the DRC and the Great Lakes region by passing section 1502 of Dodd-Frank law is a commendable milestone.

While people affected by the economic conflicts have had no choice, companies have always had the choice to demand conflict free minerals instead of looking away from the humanitarian crisis they silently perpetuate. Today more than ever, Dodd-Frank law has made that choice imperative for companies which do business with the US. California Senator Ellen Corbett has taken the issue to the state level by introducing a bill which, if passed into law, would make it illegal for the state of California to contract services with companies which do not comply with section 1502 of Dodd–Frank.

We can and must prevent human suffering by encouraging more companies to be responsible and follow the law rather than sacrifice people’s lives.

Learm more on this topic:

Watch “Crisis in the Congo. Uncovering the Truth” to learn more about on the conflict in DRC and the demand for minerals

International Conference on the Great Lakes Region

U.S. financial reform bill also targets ‘conflict minerals’ from Congo

Map of mineral-rich zones, trade routes, and areas under the control of armed groups

by Ntama Bahati