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Bill introduced to curb mineral trade that fuels war and rape
Posted by Kristi Heim
You've heard of blood diamonds. Now mobile phones and other technology products are being targeted for containing minerals sold by armed groups engaged in war and rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A House bill introduced today by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) aims to curb that trade by identifying which mines are in conflict zones and requiring importers of related mineral goods to certify whether or not their imports contain minerals from those mines. Companies would have two years to implement the requirements, and the U.S. Trade Representative would report on their compliance.
McDermott said the conflict in eastern Congo is the deadliest since World War II and is fueled in a large part by the multi-million dollar trade in minerals. Armed groups generate an estimated $144 million each year by trading ores used to produce tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold, he said.
Co-sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the Conflict Minerals Trade Act (attached here) requires companies to use outside auditors to determine whether refiners are "conflict-free." The USTR will report to Congress and the public which companies are importing goods containing conflict minerals.
In a report last December, the United Nations Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo found armed groups in the eastern region continue to fight over, illegally plunder, and profit from the trade of columbite-tantalite (coltan), cassiterite, wolframite, and gold. Such groups enslave child soldiers and use rape as a weapon.
Minerals from the DRC are used in industrial and tech products worldwide, including mobile phones, laptops and digital video recorders.
Companies and consumers have the ability to make an impact. But enforcement of such a law seems tricky. A couple of questions come to mind immediately -- will companies really be able to identify sources of their supplies that clearly? Even if they can, two years is a long time in an entrenched and brutal conflict that claims lives daily. And what about China (the world's largest market for mobile phones) and its hunger for resources with a no-strings-attached policy for dealing in Africa? This report identified European firms fueling conflict minerals.
The bill has the support of the Information Technology Industry Council and the Enough Project, a Washington D.C. group working to end genocide and crimes against humanity in Africa. I wrote a bit about local efforts here.
Enough Project co-founder John Prendergast said he expects a legislative battle. "The electronics industry has spent about 2 million dollars per month lobbying to relax similar, yet weaker, legislation in the Senate (S. 891)," he writes. He urged consumers to push for passage of the bill. "Together we can help turn a system of exploitation and violence into one of peace and opportunity."
U.S. legislation would be a good start to address the problem, said Rory Anderson, deputy director for advocacy and government relations for Federal Way-based World Vision, which works in eastern DRC and endorsed McDermott's bill.
"Americans deserve to know whether the electronics they buy are fueling bloodshed in Africa," she said, adding that the law would benefit the electronics and software industries by providing a certified mechanism to label their products "conflict free."
"We saw from the success of our 'conflict diamond' campaign a few years ago that American companies want to do the right thing," she said, but "without a uniform process, such as the one proposed in this legislation, it's very difficult for companies to tackle the supply chain challenge on their own."
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