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Conflict Minerals

Wednesday 15th January 2020


The link between the minerals trade and conflict needs to be severed. Minerals extracted from conflict-affected areas, particularly Africa, are referred to as conflict minerals. Their trading feeds directly into complex supply chains for products ranging from mobile phones and cutting tools, to jet engines, cars and jewellery, and is an important source of income for over a million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, (DRC). This is a real business dilemma. Many workers there rely on these minerals for their livelihoods, but this perpetuates the mining of conflict minerals in war zones. 

These natural mineral resources have a great potential for generating income, growth and prosperity; they can support local development and sustain the livelihoods of those involved in the mining process. However, because a significant share of these mineral resources originates from conflict-affected and high-risk areas of politically unstable countries, they inadvertently contribute directly or indirectly to armed conflict and financing terrorist activity. This results in the economic and social development in these areas being seriously compromised. Armed groups often use forced labour to mine the minerals, that are then sold to fund their own illegal activities, such as buying and trading weapons. Human rights violations take place in these areas every day. For several years, this has been a particular problem in the DRC, where there is an enormous wealth of minerals, particularly on the eastern side of the country, but it is estimated that militant groups control over 50% of the region’s mines. 

Conflict minerals

The four most commonly mined conflict minerals are tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. They are also known as 3TGs, from their initials. Tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold are extracted and subsequently used for manufacturing. 

It is estimated that the DRC contains large percentages of the world’s columbite-tantalite (coltan) and cobalt reserves, with smaller but significant copper reserves. Their gold and diamond deposits haven’t been fully explored, but it is estimated that their diamond reserves make up a quarter of the total world supply. 

Artisanal mining in the DRC is small scale and independent but remains very active in the conflict areas. Artisanal miners are subsistence miners, mining or panning for gold using their own resources. Most of the mineral production in the DRC is being undertaken by between 1 and 2 million of these artisanal miners in the DRC who, in turn, support a larger community of 4 -12 million people. 

There are many non-state armed groups involved in the production and trade of conflict minerals, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and rogue brigades within the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC), which is the Congolese national army. This makes the business environment here very unsafe, particularly in the east of the country where conflict remains. Production from conflict sites passes through various intermediaries before being exported, making it open to exploitation by militant armed groups along the way.

Because supply chains are globally dispersed and the origin of commodities can be unclear, it is challenging for supply chain managers in the western world to identify and prevent risks associated with conflict minerals. Supply chain due diligence (SCDD) can help to proactively manage supply chains and reduce the likelihood of the use of conflict minerals. 

How does this affect my company?

If your company or your supply chains deal with conflict minerals from conflict-affected or high risk areas, the UK Government strongly encourages you to do so in a way that is socially, economically and environmentally responsible. In an effort to stem the trade in conflict minerals the EU passed a new regulation in May 2017 to stop them being exported to and refined in the EU. 

The law, the Conflict Minerals Regulation, supports the development of local communities and requires EU companies to ensure they only import minerals and metals from responsible sources. It comes into force on 1 January 2021, so that companies have time to adapt to it.

You may be interested in reading this short BBC News article from 16th December 2019, ‘Top tech firms sued over DR Congo cobalt mining deaths’. It includes a short video (4 minutes 54 seconds) about Apple, Google, Tesla and Microsoft being among the companies named in a lawsuit seeking damages over deaths and injuries of child miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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