Connecting the Congo, Consumers and Changing Fortunes?

After writing back in November about the connections between global consumerism and conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), I was delighted to read this week a report from the ENOUGH Project suggesting that militias in the DRC are ceding control of illicitly held mines. According to the report, legislation passed in the US in 2010 (known as the Dodd-Frank Act) that requires companies to specify the origin of minerals used in their products has had a significant impact.

“Armed groups and the Congolese army are no longer present at two-thirds (67 percent) of tin, tantalum, and tungsten mines surveyed in eastern Congo’s North Kivu, South Kivu, and Maniema provinces, according to a major international survey followed up by Enough Project field investigations. By contrast, in 2010, before the passage of Dodd-Frank, “In the Kivu provinces, almost every mining deposit [was] controlled by a military group,” according to the U.N. Group of Experts on the DRC” – Enough Project

As a result of the legislation and industry audits, a two-tier market has been created for tin, tantalum and tungsten (which are used in electronics produced by companies like Apple and Intel), and minerals that are not traded as part of conflict-free programmes now sell for 30% to 60% less. This means that the profits that militia groups can derive from control of these minerals have diminished significantly and that the illegal operations are much less economically viable.

This progress demonstrates the power that consumers, with the help of transparency-promoting legislation, can bring to bear in order to address global issues. With supply chain information being disclosed, and companies being aware of the public relations implications of being connected with militias in the DRC, the case for such companies to support the implementation of validation processes in Congolese mines is compelling.Intel is now producing the world’s first fully conflict-free product containing Congolese minerals, while Apple has validated its tantalum supply chain as conflict-free.

Encouragingly, the ENOUGH project suggests  that most former miners have been able find other sources of income, though more can be done to facilitate entrepreneurship for ex-miners. This should be a crucial factor in assessing the success and appropriateness of the Dodd-Frank Act. Moreover, questions need to be asked about the impact of the legislation on demand for minerals from the DRC and on the livelihoods of artisanal miners.

Additionally, thought must be given to the implementation of similar reforms in the gold mining industry, in which armed groups remain heavily involved.

Read the full ENOUGH Project report here

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