A US pressure group has called for electronics companies to provide evidence that their products do not contain “conflict minerals” from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Enough Project points out that minerals such as tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold are a source of revenue for armed groups responsible for serious human rights violations. It calls on electronics companies to change their procurement practices and demand that their suppliers provide proof of where their minerals are sourced from. ITRI estimates that DR Congo accounts for some 5% of world tin mine production.

Enough is aiming to bring consumer pressure to bear on electronics companies, but also advocating a major diplomatic initiative from the US government: “President Obama must make a clean break with past policy toward Congo, which has too often been designed to half-heartedly manage the symptoms of the crisis through humanitarian aid, erratic diplomacy, and peacekeeping assistance. President Obama should make the objective of US foreign policy to end the conflict there, which will change the way America engages.” The campaign coincides with the planned introduction of new legislation in Congress that requires companies to disclose where their minerals and relevant metals in final products are sourced, and creates penalties for those who continue purchasing conflict minerals.

Critics argued that if the initiative were imposed on Congo, buyers would merely turn elsewhere. “This approach would increase the cost of doing business in Congo, resulting in a de facto export ban. This affects the livelihoods of tens of thousands of small-scale miners,” a Western diplomat specialising in mineral issues told Reuters. Congo’s copper, cobalt and diamond industries are already suffering from the impact of the global economic downturn, which has seen dozens of mining companies close up shop and lay off workers amid a drop in world demand for mineral exports. John Kanyoni, head of a mineral traders’ association in North Kivu, said he encouraged transparency, but feared a cumbersome mineral tracing scheme could kill off the industry. “Do they want people to stop working in the Kivus too? Do you think that will bring peace? These people in the mines today will just join the armed groups tomorrow,” he said.

ITRI has been moving towards the development of due diligence procedures and possible auditing or verification schemes for cassiterite from the DRC for sometime. Our policy is to work with the artisanal mining sector in order to have a positive influence wherever feasible and we therefore do not support the premature introduction of stringent mineral source verification requirements which are likely to have a severe negative impact on informal miners in terms of social and economic consequences and the potential for increased, rather than decreased, unrest.

Relevant documents regarding these activities and progress can be found [partner;310250;here].