Europe must do its bit to stop the trade in conflict minerals
We have to let our leaders know we do understand the link between products we buy and the suffering of others
By Ed Zwick - Originally published at theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 August 2014 16.38 BST
Almost a decade ago, my film Blood Diamond told the story of the illicit diamond trade and its funding of the bloody civil war in Sierra Leone. The reaction was profound as consumers came to understand the sparkly ring they bought in their local jewellery store could have brutal implications elsewhere.
But this story was never just about diamonds. Throughout the world, the demand for all natural resources is soaring. Yet tragically, local populations – especially in poorer nations – rarely benefit. Instead, revenues continue to fund conflict rather than development. We have an opportunity to help change that.
Today, the sale of “conflict minerals” sourced from high-risk areas, such as parts of Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, are funding armed groups that visit unimaginable suffering on helpless civilians. These minerals are then traded into global supply chains, where they end up in our mobile phones, laptops and automobiles.
Meanwhile, the EU is at risk of becoming a major trading hub for conflict minerals. It imports almost 25% of the global trade in tin, tantalum and tungsten. Despite this, there is no legislation requiring companies to source minerals responsibly.
This is scandalous. In 2010, the US passed binding legislation requiring companies to ensure these supply chains do not subsidise war. Several African nations, including the Congo and Rwanda, have done the same. Canada is considering a conflict minerals act and even China is developing guidelines. Yet in Europe, our manufacturers purchase minerals that could be funding the conflicts our aid money hopes to alleviate. And all the while, we risk buying products containing these conflict minerals, blithely unaware of the implications.
In an attempt to rectify this, the European commission recently proposed creating responsible sourcing standards for European companies. This is laudable, but the proposal that will soon be discussed in parliament is weak and toothless. First, it is voluntary and therefore need not be taken seriously by those it targets. Second, the proposal – by the European commissioner for trade, Karel De Gucht – covers a paltry 0.05% of Europe-based companies. In its present form, it will have no significant effect in preventing these minerals from entering European markets.
This is not just disappointing, it is deadly. In the Congo, the minerals trade has fuelled violent conflict in the Kivu provinces for more than a decade. It pays for weapons and funds armed men in a conflict characterised by murder, mass rape, wholesale pillaging and the displacement of tens of thousands of people.
Diamonds continue to fund conflict as well. In Zimbabwe, the diamond trade has regularly been associated with human rights abuses. And in what is believed to be only the tip of an iceberg, officials in Antwerp recently seized parcels containing what were believed to be conflict diamonds from the war-torn Central African Republic.
Simply put, the EU is at risk of breaching its international obligations. Our governments have a duty under European human rights law to ensure businesses do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses. So why promote a voluntary proposal when what we urgently need is regulation and enforcement?
Because they do not believe we – the consumer – want to consider the implications of what we buy. We need to let our leaders know that we understand the connection between the products we enjoy and the suffering of others.
Global Witness – in concert with more than 60 NGOs – is campaigning for binding legislation that would require companies to investigate their supply chains and publicly report their findings. This is a landmark opportunity to help put this right. Contact your MEP and say we need to stop this deplorable situation.
Use your mobile phone to make a call. Or your laptop to write an email. You’ll be putting those minerals to good use.
You can contact your MEP via this link: https://www.writetothem.com/
Here are some suggested tweets you can use to contact MEPs also.
Take a lead on #ConflictMinerals. Pass binding legislation in Europe now: http://tinyurl.com/mmedww3
The EU must act on #ConflictMinerals. We’re lagging behind: http://tinyurl.com/mmedww3
Take a strong view on #ConflictMinerals. Voluntary proposals won’t cut it: http://tinyurl.com/mmedww3