Congo: American and European legislative initiatives in the mining sector
The European Commission is studying the appropriateness and the content of new European legislation relating to ‘blood minerals’ that are probably financing and prolonging armed conflict in different regions of the world.
In 2010 the US Congress adopted a law on mineral resources mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and neighbouring countries. In its Section 1502, this law imposes on American companies that use these minerals the obligation to certify their origin while exercising reasonable standards of due diligence on their chains of supply.
This law has not yet officially come into force because the Security Exchange Commission still has to adopt its implementation measures but has found itself targeted by a powerful lobby of the companies concerned and also the Chamber of Commerce.
In practice, however, a form of unofficial boycott is being observed in the east of the DRC. Here, in the absence of any means for certifying the origin of the minerals, only Chinese companies are still buying them on the spot at ridiculously low prices which do not provide a decent living for the artisanal miners.
At the time when this law was being passed in the US, the European Commission declared that it did not want to draw up any legislation on this issue; citing, as proof of justification of its decision, the hostile reaction to the US Act.
Today the European position on the subject has evolved and a task force has been created by the Commission and the European External Action Service to map out the different European initiatives on this topic and to evaluate possible options.
It should be recognised that this subject is particularly complex, especially because of the technical nature of the questions raised by the certification of each of the minerals concerned; and due to the variety of contexts potentially included in the category ‘conflict minerals’, and the minimum conditions required for putting a certification scheme in place. There are also risks of stigmatising a country or a region and of provoking an actual embargo with potentially disastrous social consequences.
The Jesuit European Social Center and the Belgian Commission for Justice and Peace have conducted a survey of the territory in the south of the DRC on behalf of the Belgian Natural Resources Network. This survey had a three-fold objective. First, to evaluate, together with the local civil society, the impact of the US Dodd-Frank Act; second, to gather information on what was really happening in order to guide future European legislation on the subject; and third, to work out the feasibility of an official visit by European and Belgian MPs to examine these questions.
In fact, after several meetings with the cabinet of the Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht and the European External Action Service, and after a great deal of discussion with Congolese and American partners, the Belgian Natural Resources Network (an informal coalition of around 15 NGOs) decided to organise a joint mission – civil society and Belgian and European MPs – to visit Kivu to learn about the actual local situation and the possible impact of European rules on minerals from the Congo.
This exploratory mission, lasting about 12 days, concentrated mostly on South and North Kivu, with meetings set up at Bujumbura, Bukavu and Goma with the most important actors from local civil society working on these issues and related subjects. That is how we came to collaborate with the following bodies: BEST, OGP, APRODEPED, CENCO, CJP Burundi, Bukavu and Goma, the Pole Institute, the Natural Resources Network, the Groupe thématique mines (mining sector group), CAFOD, CIRGL and the UN Group of Experts.
While there were times when opinions did diverge between all these different actors, a clear majority opinion emerged on two important points:
Firstly, the US Act is a good law and must be applied, but this should be done while taking local realities into account and while providing for additional measures to assist the artisanal miners.
Secondly, while the issue of good governance of natural resources is essential these days in the DRC, it does first and above all hinge upon the disintegration of the Congolese state, which no longer seems capable of imposing peace and social justice within its territory.
The unruly post-electoral situation shows up, in an exacerbated manner, the weakness of the Congo’s own institutions in a region of the country which is still suffering from conflict; and whose principal economic activity relies on the artisanal miners, whose incomes have slumped since the suspension of trade in minerals imposed by Kinshasa and the Dodd-Frank Act. In this context, civil society is calling for the artisanal mining sector to be formalised, thereby opening the way for the specification of sites authorising ‘clean’ minerals for sale, for support of some semi-mechanisation for the artisanal miners, for their organisation into cooperatives and also enable the development of infrastructure to make this trade sustainable.
If any European legislation is going to be adopted on the subject of ‘blood minerals’, it will be absolutely vital that it avoids the pitfalls of the US law by not limiting itself to only one region in the world but also covering the existing connections between illegal exploitation of natural resources and armed conflict. It should not only provide for sanctions but also have a component of assistance to allow local people who earn their living through mining either to certify the product of their activities or to switch to another wage-earning activity.
With particular regard to the DRC, every future initiative on this subject must be registered in a regional perspective by supporting the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, and also include projects designed to strengthen the Congolese state and the local civil society, so that good governance may develop in a systematic manner and not on a per sector basis.
Relational Peace Advocacy Officer - RPAN -JESC
Translated from the original text in French