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Why responsible sourcing of DRC minerals has major weak spots

Author: Ken Matthysen, The Conversation, Published on: 29 April 2019

"Why responsible sourcing of DRC minerals has major weak spots"

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is rich in minerals such as coltan, tantalum, tin and gold. All are coveted for their widespread use in modern technologies, like semiconductors for cars and mobile phones. These minerals are widely held to be at the heart of over two decades of conflict in eastern DRC, involving dozens of armed groups in shifting alliances. These ongoing tensions have cost the lives of over five million people...Because of this, responsible sourcing initiatives were born with the hope that they would increase oversight on mineral supply chains. The idea was that they would enable consumers to demand that companies account for where their minerals came from to ensure that they are conflict free...the Danish Institute for International Studies and the International Peace Information Service launched a report on lessons learnt from 10 years of our research on conflict minerals in the DRC. We found that even though some armed groups rely on minerals for funding, they do not fuel conflict in eastern DRC. This is because most groups in the area fund themselves in other ways, like roadblocks...

Guidelines and regulations – like the US’s Dodd Frank Act – target companies selling products which might contain “conflict minerals”. They pressure them to monitor their mineral supply chains to ensure that they don’t contribute to conflict or human rights violations...But responsible sourcing – and the increased regulation it comes with – has also had unintended consequences. One is that it’s had a negative effect on informal artisanal miners...For instance in Rubaya, eastern Congo, after schemes were set up to trace the source and certify minerals, artisanal miners complained of rising poverty and unemployment...Many of the artisanal miners who find themselves out of work, resort to banditry. A second weakness is that it’s not even clear that the minerals subject to responsible sourcing or traceability programmes are actually conflict free...For responsible sourcing to be sustainable a way needs to be found to plug the loopholes, and to uplift artisanal miners.

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