The following is an opinion piece, written by Abbot Léonard Santedi, the Secretary General of the Bishops Conference of the Democratic Republic of Congo, commenting on the current state of negotiations with in the European Union about conflict minerals.
CIDSE, the Catholic development agencies network, has created an email action to ask EU decision makers for an effective EU regulation to alert them that we don’t want to be complicit in human right abuses, in countries such as Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Myanmar.
EU countries must not weaken plan to stop conflict minerals trade
1 April 2016
It is a sobering fact that your smart phone might contain conflict minerals. Even more so that EU member states are in the process of scaling back proposals that can help stop this, writes Léonard Santedi.
Abbot Léonard Santedi is Secretary General of the Bishops Conference of the Democratic Republic of Congo and a leader of its Commission on Natural Resources.
Last year the European Parliament voted in favour of a strong regulation that would help fight trade in conflict minerals, but member states have been looking to weaken the plans. We cannot let this happen.
High-level negotiations have gone behind closed doors in a trialogue process where the regulation is being watered down and rendered almost meaningless to those affected by this bloody trade. The next trialogue takes place this Monday 5 April – it is high time to make negotiators realise the impact of watering down the regulation voted by elected EU representatives in the parliament.
Millions of women, children and men in my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, are facing violence, rape and death in areas surrounding mines, while companies along entire supply chains are not obliged to check whether their products contain conflict minerals. And yet, extracting and trading minerals finances armed groups and military forces who commit serious violations of human rights. This circle of suffering and violence must be stopped.
Self-regulation not enough
During my visit to Brussels in March, I took great heart from hearing people in the business sector who are keen to improve their practices, including views that the problem would be cut in parts with exclusion of the important pressure for due diligence in supply chains from consumer-facing companies. Unless member states agree on strong rules, dishonourable businesses will be allowed to continue to trade in murky waters. As a leading conservative MEP put it, he’s been around long enough in business and seen too many ‘Volkswagens’ to know that the value of self-regulation is zero – the agreement must be binding.
Under weak plans, originally proposed by the European Commission in March 2014, a limited number of smelters and refineries importing raw minerals would be encouraged to join a self-certification system voluntarily. During the ensuing debates, nearly 150 Bishops from around the world joined together to call for a more ambitious regulation in a statement coordinated by CIDSE, the international alliance of Catholic development organizations. Fortunately the parliament was bold, voting to require all European companies manufacturing or importing components and final products to check that their supply chains don’t fuel conflicts or turn a blind eye to human rights violations.
Member states and EU political leaders must now support a mandatory due diligence requirement for companies along the entire supply chain of products containing these minerals. They must support rules that align with the OECD’s due diligence guidance. Meanwhile, companies working downstream of metal importers, especially those that place products containing these minerals on the EU market, must be part of this process.
It is heartwarming to see the solidarity from EU citizens who are calling for stronger action, like in this online petition. In the absence of a strong mandatory rule, European citizens cannot have the guarantee that the products they buy and use daily are manufactured without violating human rights.
One finger cannot peel banana
Citizens and bishops in my country and areas surrounding the Great Lakes have been encouraged by robust action by the United States. A study by our Commission on Natural Resources showed that the 2010 US Dodd Frank Act has spurred real changes on the ground by business actors of all nationalities towards responsible mineral sourcing, disproving claims that it was the source of negative impacts.
Cleaning up trade in minerals must be a common fight of all. In Congo we have a proverb that says, “One single finger can’t peel a banana.” In keeping with its values and respect for human dignity, the European Union has a great responsibility to match and raise global due diligence standards, not lower them. Hear our people’s cry of suffering, and cry of hope.
EU Member States blocking progress on proposals that would help stop conflict minerals
CIDSE press release
6 April 2016
Last year the European Parliament voted in favor of a strong regulation that would help fight trade in conflict minerals, but Member States have been looking to weaken the plans. High-level negotiations have gone behind closed doors in a trialogue process where the regulation is being watered down and rendered almost meaningless to those affected by this bloody trade. If some Member States have their way, the EU rules would fall short of measures taken by the US, China and African countries, and undermine the internationally recognized standard of the OECD’s due diligence guidance.
CIDSE, the international alliance of Catholic development organizations, regrets the outcomes of yesterday’s second trialogue meeting (the negotiations between the European Parliament, the European Commission and the 28 EU Member States that form the EU Council). The negotiations are falling well short of the demands expressed by many civil society organizations, as well as those of nearly 150 Bishops from around the world.
Stefan Reinhold, CIDSE’s Advocacy coordinator on conflict minerals, said “The Council has yet to make constructive steps towards an agreement, refusing to move on from its very weak position of December 2015 defending a voluntary regulation. It seems that while a number of EU Member States would be willing to move towards a mandatory regulation, a few Member States are blocking all progress. And while some voices are calling attention to the need to maintain respect for the OECD standards on due diligence, this is far from assured.”
EU government leaders must realize the impact of watering down the regulation voted by elected EU representatives in the Parliament. Member States should not hide behind closed doors, but contribute to transparent EU law-making and be ready to defend their choices publicly. Many women, children and men in countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia or Myanmar are facing violence, even rape and death in areas surrounding mines, while companies along entire supply chains are not obliged to check whether their products contain conflict minerals. And European citizens cannot have the guarantee that the products they buy and use daily are produced without violating human rights.
In a public debate in Brussels on 14th of March, Abbot Léonard SANTEDI, Secretary General of the Congolese Bishops Conference, stated that a voluntary regulation would not be enough to improve the situation of populations living near mine areas. In contrast, the 2010 US Dodd Frank Act has spurred real changes by business actors of all nationalities towards responsible mineral sourcing. “I come here with a cry of suffering from my people, but also a cry of hope. In keeping with its values and respect for human dignity, the European Union has a duty of responsibility, and solidarity. Otherwise it’s the law of the jungle.”
During the debate, Mr Elmar Brok, President of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, shared his conviction that “a binding agreement with limited scope may not be a full moral approach, but it can be a solution”. He said he’s “been around long enough in business and seen too many ‘Volkswagens’ to know that the value of self-control is zero.”
And Jan Tytgat, Director EU Government Affairs Benelux at Umicore, a business undertaking due diligence in its minerals recycling activities, stated that “A proposal that doesn’t refer to downstream can’t assure customers that phones don’t contain conflict gold. It cuts the problem in parts. Every week we receive questions from downstream customers on the conflict-free nature of our minerals.”
Negotiators are ignoring EU citizens’ call to action: 1.500 EU citizens to date have joined their voices in this campaign action calling on EU negotiators to “stand up in favor of an ambitious regulation on conflict minerals”. Yesterday, CIDSE joined the Stop Mad Mining network to hand over the petition “Tackling the trade in conflict minerals!” signed by almost 42.000 people, who demand an EU regulation with mandatory due diligence, which meets the OECD standards as a minimum.
The EU discussions stand in stark contrast to recent developments in France, where on 23 March, the National Assembly adopted in second reading a legislative proposal on parent company duty of care that would require large French companies to develop a “vigilance plan” in order to prevent environmental damage and human rights violations connected with their activities, in France as well as within global supply chains. Stefan Reinhold said that “the French have taken an important step towards legislation for due diligence in supply chains – it’s time for EU decision makers to get inspired and move decisively towards adopting a strong regulation that will help put a stop to the scandal of conflict minerals”.
Stefan Reinhold, CIDSE Advocacy coordinator on conflict minerals
+32 (0)2 233 37 51, reinhold(at)cidse.org
Valentina Pavarotti, CIDSE Media and Communication Officer
+32 (0)2 2824073, pavarotti(at)cidse.org
Notes to the editors:
Background on the conflict minerals regulation:
The European Commission proposed the “conflict minerals” regulation in March 2014. The proposal was disappointing in many ways: it consisted in a self-certification system that companies could voluntarily join, and it only applied to 19 smelters and refiners based in the EU (while not covering all products entering the EU market that contain the targeted minerals). In May 2015, the European Parliament strengthened the proposal by requiring all European companies manufacturing or importing components and final products containing the targeted minerals to check their supply chains to make sure they don’t fuel conflicts or participate in human rights violations. Even if some gaps still remain, CIDSE welcomed this vote as a great evolution.
CIDSE has coordinated a statement signed by nearly 150 Church leaders from 38 countries on 5 continents, asking for strong regulation to help break the link between natural resources and conflicts.
Other CIDSE’s resources on conflict minerals are available.
CIDSE is an international family of Catholic social justice organizations, working together to promote justice, harness the power of global solidarity and create transformational change to end poverty and inequalities. We do this by challenging systemic injustice and inequity as well as destruction of nature. We believe in a world where every human being has the right to live in dignity. www.cidse.org
CIDSE members: Broederlijk Delen (Belgium), CAFOD (England and Wales), CCFD – Terre Solidaire (France), Center of Concern (USA), Cordaid (the Netherlands), Development & Peace (Canada), Entraide et Fraternité (Belgium), eRko (Slovakia), Fastenopfer (Switzerland), FEC (Portugal), FOCSIV (Italy), Fondation Bridderlech Deelen (Luxembourg), KOO (Austria), Manos Unidas (Spain), MISEREOR (Germany), Progressio (United Kingdom), SCIAF (Scotland), Trócaire (Ireland)
Stefan Reinhold – Advocacy Assistant
CIDSE – together for global justice
Rue Stévin 16, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium
T: +32 (0) 184.108.40.206 – F: +32 (0) 220.127.116.11
Edinburgh university breaks new ground by opposing conflict minerals
A campaign to combat the trade in scarce and valuable minerals to finance wars is being backed by the University of Edinburgh, the first in the UK to ask suppliers to detail how they source their raw materials
30 March 2016
Edinburgh university is to cut the use of so-called conflict minerals in goods it buys, with a promise to search out alternatives if a product has raw materials directly linked to wars in the developing world.
Under the policy – the first of its kind for a UK higher education institution – Edinburgh will require its suppliers to provide information on where they source metals such as tin, gold and tungsten in their products.
Campaign groups have warned that the minerals, commonly used in computers, smartphones and electronic equipment, are often mined in dangerous conditions by low-paid workers and children, with their production funding armed groups guilty of human rights abuses in countries such as the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Dave Gorman, the university’s director of social responsibility, said that the policy was intended to draw attention to an under-recognised issue.
One of our main aims is to raise awareness among our staff and students. But over time we also want to think about how our academics can conduct research and shine a light on this issue.
We’ll also be looking at what we can do with regard to our contracts and procurement. These minerals are widespread within things like PCs, laptops, mobile phones and tablet devices, and we’ll be asking our suppliers whether they can give us assurances about where they’re sourcing their materials from, and if not, what they’ll do to ensure that they can.
Gorman added that while raising the profile of conflict minerals was part of the reason behind the policy, it could also have a more tangible effect, pushing manufacturers to address potential abuses in their supply chain.
If you think of the scale of a university, Edinburgh’s annual turnover is around £850m. Our combined total of staff and students is approaching 50,000 people. In that sense we’re a large organisation with the opportunity to make quite a large impact.
As a single buyer, it’s difficult to claim too much. But we’re hopeful that others will take up this issue and there’ll be a growing band of us.
We’re currently the only institution with a policy on conflict minerals, but we’re not the only people who are worried about this issue. We want to work collaboratively with suppliers, and with other universities, and with the Scottish government to ask the right questions, find out where the problems are and make changes where they need to be made.
Campaigners welcomed the university’s stance. Sophia Pickles, from the organisation Global Witness, which focuses on environmental and human rights abuses connected to natural resources, said customer activism could play a large part in improving conditions for communities supplying materials ultimately bound for the electronics industry.
Behavioural change can certainly have a result. Everyone who’s buying these products has a responsibility to ask questions, and once you do that you can start to scrutinise trading norms and supply chains.
Our investigations over a decade have found that natural resources fund some of the most egregious human rights abuses and conflicts in the world. There are armed groups and elements of national armies using these materials to fund their own fighting objectives rather than for the benefit of the people or the development of countries’ infrastructure.
In the mines I’ve visited in eastern Congo you could have people going down shafts that were over 100m deep, often wearing just flip-flops and shorts. Sometimes they might have a hard hat. The mines operate 24 hours a day, and miners often work long shifts with very little to eat.
Pickles added that groups controlling mines included the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), whose leading figures have been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in the DRC, and Taliban factions extracting semi-precious lapis lazuli in Afghanistan. But she cautioned against a complete withdrawal from affected countries.
People working in these mines face extremely difficult working conditions, but for many people there’s no other option.
The solution isn’t about avoiding countries like the DRC or the Central African Republic, it’s about making sure that companies have the right checks in place to improve conditions. It’s about making sure they’ve undertaken a process of due diligence and can spot the red flags that can indicate abuses.
In 2015 the European parliament voted to enforce compulsory monitoring of minerals from conflict zones. The exact terms of the new regulations are still to be decided.#