The global trade in a variety of minerals has funded some of the world’s most brutal conflicts for decades. These minerals are often referred to as 'conflict minerals'. Resources from conflict or high-risk areas - such as parts of Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zimbabwe and Myanmar - provide lucrative funding to armed groups, and are linked to human rights abuses and environmental degradation.
These resources can enter global supply chains, ending up in our mobile phones, laptops, jewellery and other products. They are traded on commodities exchanges, swapped by banks, and are a favourite vehicle for investors worldwide. It is very difficult for consumers and investors to know if their purchases or investments fund violence overseas.
For more than 20 years, Global Witness has run pioneering campaigns and in-depth investigations to break the links between minerals and conflict, corruption and human rights abuses. Our work on the minerals tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold in particular, has shone a spotlight on the eastern DRC, where these minerals have in part funded conflict and instability with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence.
Mineral wealth should contribute to the betterment of people’s lives in resource rich areas and overall state development. But this is only possible if companies and governments take action.
Companies must regularly and proactively conduct checks on supply chains to ensure that the minerals they use, trade, and invest in have not contributed to conflict or human rights abuses. Then they must report on their findings and take action to mitigate risk.
This process, known as supply chain due diligence, is essential to ensuring the products we buy are made with materials sourced responsibly and fairly. Governments must support implementation of responsible sourcing practices, develop and enforce relevant laws and take action to hold companies and individuals accountable when they fail to act responsibly.
We have seen significant steps towards change:
The US passed landmark legislation in 2010, known as the Dodd Frank Act Section 1502, requiring US-listed companies to carry out due diligence on minerals sourced from the DRC, and its nine neighbouring countries.
Several African countries, including DRC and Rwanda, have legislation in place requiring companies to undertake supply chain checks.
China developed its own responsible mineral sourcing guidelines in 2015.
In June 2017, the EU adopted a regulation seeking to break the links between minerals and human rights abuses through supply chain due diligence after several years of civil society campaigning.
Meanwhile, the US, Canada, UK and EU are increasingly adopting laws that allow targeted financial and visa sanctions against entities linked to human rights abuses and in some cases corruption, and prevent others from doing business with them. These new policies are proving effective in complementing the mandatory due diligence laws and standards and creating important incentives for compliance.