On Friday, February 6th, AFJN’s Policy Analyst Jacques Bahati joined Sasha Lezhnev of the Enough Project and Carly Oboth from Global Witness on Capitol Hill to brief staffers from the Senate and House on the implementation of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, also known as the conflict mineral law. This intimate briefing was hosted by Senator Durbin’s office. The conflict mineral law, which intends to weaken armed groups that rely on funding from illegal mineral trade from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), demands US companies prove their mineral resources are not contributing to the ongoing conflict in DRC and the region.
“One of the roots of this conflict is economic, so part of the solution needs to be economic,” Bahati said during the briefing.
Lezhnev explained that many of the larger tungsten, tin, and tantalum mines (the “3T” mines) in the Kivu provinces are now conflict-free and demilitarized. There are no longer any Rwandan-backed rebel groups in DRC, and those which remain find it difficult to profit from the sale of the 3Ts. Tracking gold is harder, it’s easier to smuggle in small amounts from Eastern DRC to Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi. The FDLR rebel group is at 1/4 the strength it was 3 years ago. Did the conflict mineral law do this alone? No, clearly international pressure and other efforts played a part. But 1502 is an integral component in the progress made since 2010.
Why talk about this now? Section 1502 has faced legal challenges from day one, and the new congress may try to weaken or repeal the law. For example, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Manufacturers Association, and the Business Roundtable filed a lawsuit against Section 1502 in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. The lawsuit did not make any legal arguments against 1502, instead it requested changes on the basis that the rule “imposes an unworkable, overly broad and burdensome system that will undermine jobs and growth and may not achieve Congress’s overall objectives.” Also, HR 37, a bill passed in the House on January 14, 2015, threatens to water down certain Dodd-Frank requirements and lessens the Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) regulatory power.
Allowing companies to “self-audit” or other similar modifications to dilute the law would cause a serious backslide in DRC, says Lezhnev: smuggling would increase, armed groups could return, and returning companies would pay much less, hurting the economy and making life worse for miners. Any attempt to repeal or weaken this law would greatly affect the European Union’s (EU) current policy process as it creates its own conflict mineral law, which is modeled on 1502.
The conflict mineral law is on the road to achieving its objectives, and the rules are not unworkable.
Companies like Motorola Solutions, Apple, and Intel are participating in closed, conflict-free supply chains; completing due diligence won’t even register as a significant cost for the majority of affected companies. The SEC also took 2 years to complete an exhaustive investigation, in consultation with both businesses and non-profit groups, and weighed issues of compliance cost and the burden on business before it released the rules.
All three panelists agreed that Section 1502 is a step on a journey and more is needed: livelihood support for miner communities, improved transparency and tracking of resources, especially gold, as well as broader improvements in governance and security in the region. Clearly the conflict mineral law has not and will not fix everything in Eastern DRC, but the progress is measured and heartening. The law should be reformed and strengthened, not weakened or repealed.
Further reading: Suffocating Congo’s War, Advocacy by AFJN, and more details about the EU’s conflict mineral law.
By Melaura Homan-Smith, AFJN Program Coordinator
Photo: Sasha Lezhnev, Enough Project, Bahati Jacques, AFJN, Carly Oboth, Global Witness, Elizabeth Lawrence, Senator Durbin’s office