The blood of conflicts in our smartphones

“There is a link between mineral extraction and the funding of armed groups in Congo, we have to break it” Gianni Pittella President of the Socialists and Democrats at the European Parliament said during a debate in the plenary session on a system of transparency and certification on the imports of minerals and metals like  tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. It will be voted in the upcoming hours at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

REUTERS/Kenny Katombe

It has been demonstrated, for example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo how military groups in conflict areas often use the sale of minerals. The European Commission has proposed  to set up a voluntary system in the EU for importers, smelters and refiners using these minerals. Companies should limit the import of the so-called conflict minerals and source their minerals responsibly. But the influence of EU business companies and lobbying activity could stop these steps : the EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom proposed to the European Parliament a voluntary based certification of importers of minerals from conflict areas. Strong is the reaction from Socialists and Democrats “It’s hypocrite showing new measures and funds to try to avoid immigration tragedies and then hide behind bureaucracy to not oblige companies to transparency on the bloody minerals that come from conflict areas, by aggravating the situation in Africa in those countries from which immigrants escape and die in front of our coasts” Patrizia Toia, chief of the delegation of Partito Democratico meps at the EP. However meps are divided on the issue of making mandatory or voluntary the importer certification. Under the Commission's proposal, an annual list of  responsible smelters and refiners in the EU would be published to increase public accountability, boost supply chain transparency and facilitate responsible mineral sourcing. 

Our smartphones are made of materials from conflict areas

The Democratic Republic of Congo, in particular in its East part, is a strategic area for the extraction of minerals for the world electronic sector: Kivu region contains between 60% and 80% of the world's coltan reserves. The war for almost two decades devastated this resource rich region. Already in the 2002, a UN report demonstrated the link between the extraction of minerals and military groups who control the region’s mines and the shipping routes, by abusing the civilian population, by forced labour, child labour, rapes and extortions. The EU and Asian companies become indirectly complicit in the abuse by buying Congolese minerals of unknown origins. Since 2003 the United Nations had established an arms embargo and a sanctions regime on the Democratic Republic of Congo for individuals or entities who support the military groups through the illicit trade in natural resources. But until now the results are very few:

the sanctions are not effectively applied because of the lack of commitment by Western and African governments. In July 2010 in USA the Dodd-Frank-Act has been approved and it includes, among other things, measures to make Congo’s mining industry legal and transparent: the USA companies are obliged to declare the coltan and other minerals' origins. Furthermore, when the material comes from Congo or other areas at high risk of conflict the company has to provide a detailed report on the measures taken to identify the source and supply chain , to ensure that the product does not originate from a conflict zone. So this law imposes some legal obligations on USA companies and that’s what the EP would like to do following the American example.

Ong and EU citizens petition

Ong like CIDSE, EurAc and Justice et Paix Commission published a video on the hidden stories behind the minerals coming from the conflict areas  and it is part of a campaign asking in the next hours to the EP to vote to eliminate the use of minerals imported from conflict zones.   According to Amnesty International data in the Central African Republic, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the minerals trade has been partly responsible for fuelling deadly conflicts that have displaced 9.4 million people. “Unfortunately it seems that the European Union has given more weight to the voice of powerful business than to the voices of the people who live with the fall-out from this trade on a daily basis” said Lucy Graham of Amnesty International.


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