Critics tear into proposed EU conflict minerals law

10th October 2014 By: Anine Kilian - Contributing Editor Online

The European Union (EU) is failing to stifle a deadly trade in conflict minerals, rights groups Global Witness and Amnesty International have said, weeks before new legislation is to be discussed in the European Parliament.

A new analysis by Global Witness suggests that companies are bringing minerals worth billions of euros into Europe with-out having to disclose whether their purchases finance armed groups or human rights violations in countries ravaged by conflict.

“At the moment, we have no way of knowing what European companies are doing to avoid funding conflict or human rights abuses,” says Global Witness conflict resources campaign leader Michael Gibb.

He notes that the EU has pro-posed legislation it claims will tackle the problem, but the draft law only goes so far as to suggest companies voluntarily check and declare the source of their minerals.

Gibb adds that studies show companies do not check their supply chains unless they are required to do so and that this legislation will not meaningfully reduce the trade in conflict minerals.

The analysis reveals the extent of the EU’s role in the trade of minerals, which, if sourced without proper checks from conflict-affected and high-risk areas, can be used to pay for armed groups and security forces that inflict insufferable violence on local communities.

The minerals are used in mobile phones, laptops, cars or light bulbs. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia and the Central African Republic, the trade has fuelled deadly conflicts that have displaced over 9.4-million people and led to major human rights abuses.

“In Colombia, the mining companies themselves have been associated with human rights violations,” he says.
The EU accounted for almost a quarter of the global trade in tin, tungsten, tantalum, gold ores and metals last year. In the same year, 240-million mobile phones and over 100-million laptops were imported into the EU, all of which also contain these minerals.

Currently, companies are not required to ensure that the proceeds from this trade do not end up in the wrong hands.

Huge volumes of products are brought unchecked into countries like Germany, the UK and France. Germany is the largest importer of mobile phones and laptops in the EU, bringing in around 9.6-million laptops and 28.6-million mobile phones in 2013, worth €18.2-billion. The UK is the second-largest importer of mobile phones and laptops, the Netherlands is the third-largest and France the fourth-largest.

“European companies are likely profiting from mineral trades that are filling the pockets of abusive armed groups in resource-rich countries like the Congo and Colombia,” says Amnesty Inter-national’s director for global issues Audrey Gaughran.

She notes that the EU needs to come up with a law that effectively tackles the link between European trade and violent human rights abuses overseas. Responsible sourcing of minerals should not be optional, but something every business does.

The US and a dozen Central African countries have measures in place requiring companies to investigate their mineral supply chains, but the EU has none. As the global demand for natural resources increases, the EU is at risk of becoming a major conflict minerals trading hub.

The new analysis is revealed as the nongovernmental organisation coalition publicly calls on EU member States to overhaul the proposed law and create something that will give consumers confidence that their pur- chases “do not contribute to harm” overseas. Supporters, such as Blood Diamond director Ed Zwick have backed the campaign.

Specifically, the coalition is calling for the voluntary proposal to be replaced by binding requirements, compelling European companies to source minerals responsibly.

The current scheme targets only a paltry 0.05% of Europe-based companies involved in the trade. It does not currently cover companies that import consumer goods, such as laptops, mobile phones and cars, which contain the minerals in question.
The proposal seeks to include other natural resources at risk of funding armed groups or abusive security forces, or linked to serious human rights abuses, such as diamonds, coal and chromite.

Global Witness believes that members of the European Parliament and member States have a responsibility to ensure that companies in Europe do not profit at the expense of local communities in producing countries. It says they should give consumers that assurance through robust legislation.