Reuters reports from Busanga, in DR Congo’s Katanga province, that buying rules implemented by the global electronics industry since 1 April have caused considerable hardship in the region. Companies including RIM, Apple and Microsoft are signatories to the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and Global eSustainability Initiative (GeSI) standards, agreed to curb the use of uncertified minerals from the region, the profits from which are partly used to fuel conflict.

As Congo’s planned tagging system, backed by ITRI, is only now being rolled out, the decision had meant a de facto embargo on many Congolese minerals, putting at risk the livelihood of thousands of artisanal miners. Around half the artisanal miners left Busanga following the suspension of mining, looking for other ways to make a living in the minerals-rich country where poverty is rampant.

U.S-based capacity building agency PACT says nearly 300,000 miners and their families – as many as 1.5 million people – have been affected across Congo’s eastern and southern regions as the industry races to put in place traceability programmes. “At the moment we are trying to save livelihoods,” said Karen Hayes of the non-profit PACT, which has been charged with implementing the traceability programme.

Rolling out the programme in other places will be trickier, said Elisabeth Caesens, a mining governance analyst with the Carter Centre. “It will be more difficult to implement in areas where the security situation badly needs traceability, especially the Kivus,” Caesens said. North and South Kivu and Maniema had accounted for some 85% of total DRC tin production before production and trade was banned by the government last September. The lifting of this ban in March was then followed within weeks by the start of the new international buying requirements.

PACT’s Hayes says that due to logistical and financial problems it remains unclear when the programme will be rolled out in the east and in the meantime some could attempt to channel ‘conflict minerals’ through Katanga’s certified mines. Some $10 million more in funding was needed, she said. In the meantime, the de facto embargo had removed the only source of income for many people in the east already living with the conflict, Hayes said. “Before they were scrapping a living through mining, now they can’t even do that.”