EU parliament

Briefing / Feb. 4, 2015

Conflict Minerals in Europe

Stop the EU supporting a Deadly Trade.

Europe is a major player in the global trade in minerals but – unlike the US and parts of Africa – it has no laws to ensure they are sourced responsibly. This makes it very hard for consumers to know whether their purchases are funding conflict, armed groups or human rights abuses overseas.

Global Witness is campaigning for strong legislation in the EU that will help break the links between the minerals trade and violence, and ensure that minerals benefit the countries and communities where they are found.

In the Central African Republic, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the minerals trade has been partly responsible for fuelling deadly conflicts that have displaced 9.4 million people. The trade in conflict minerals is a global problem.

These minerals can enter global supply chains and end up in everyday products such as mobile phones, laptops, jewellery, cars and light bulbs. The EU is a major destination. In 2013, it accounted for more than 15 per cent of worldwide imports of raw forms of tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold, worth an estimated €123 billion globally. 

Members of the European Parliament took a huge step forward on 20 May 2015 when they voted for a landmark law to promote more responsible and transparent mineral sourcing. But the fight is not over yet. The European Parliament will soon enter into negotiations with the Council of the EU and the European Commission to come to an agreement on the final text of the law.

We are calling for:

  • A strong and binding law that requires all companies bringing minerals into the EU—whether in their raw form or in products—to carry out checks on supply chains to identify and manage risks, and publicly report on those risks in line with international standards.
  • Other development and good governance measures that promote responsible sourcing from conflict-affected and high-risk areas, and address development challenges linked to implementation of the law, such as challenges faced by artisanal miners and their families.
  • A law that allows other natural resources linked to conflict and human rights abuses—such as diamonds, jade and coal—to  be added in the future.

The European Parliament’s recent decision to vote for a strong and binding conflict minerals law sends a strong message to EU governments and the Commission. It echoes calls from almost 150 religious leaders, global investors, small businesses and business leaders. More than 150 international campaigning organisations have also joined the call for change, as well as hundreds of thousands of European citizens.

Dr. Denis Mukwege, the winner of the European Union’s most distinguished human rights award (the Sakharov Prize), called for a strong mandatory law when he accepted his award in 2015.

A commitment to responsible sourcing must be made mandatory for all businesses that could potentially bring conflict minerals into Europe. If not, the legislation now under discussion risks undermining global attempts to clean up the trade. - Dr. Denis Mukwege, the winner of the European Union’s most distinguished human rights award (the Sakharov Prize)
Conflict Minerals Hands
"We urgently need a strong law in the EU which stops companies ignoring the harms their purchases fuel in countries like the scrutiny of the sector has triggered real progress which the EU’s voluntary scheme would undermine. It would allow European companies to profit at the expense of local people" Gautier Muhindo Misonia, coordinator of the Centre for Research and Investigation into the Environment, Democracy and Human Rights, in DRC

These are not new ideas. The UN's Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights make it clear that companies should ensure their activities don’t fund harm and abuses. Other countries, including the US, have introduced legislation requiring companies trading tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold to do so responsibly. Similar sourcing standards have been committed to in 12 African countries, and China is currently drafting guidelines based on them.

Our governments have a duty under European human rights law to ensure businesses do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses. - Ed Zwick, the Director of Hollywood Blockbuster 'Blood Diamond'

The minerals trade can be a major contributor to development, so disengaging entirely from countries or regions is not the answer. A strong EU law should encourage companies to continue sourcing from conflict or high-risk regions, but in a way that is responsible.

Responsible sourcing is also essential to any top-performing and sustainable business - companies themselves have recognised that it brings both reputational and economic benefits. 

Supply chain due diligence...helps companies discover previously unknown risks, learn more about their supply chains and build in innovations. It also enables them to position themselves as ethical brands to consumers and investors alike. - Peter Nicholls, a former vice-president in the Rio Tinto Group and the Head of Global Business Authentication at Walk Free

The conflict minerals trade thrives in the shadows. Better regulating the trade in these resources will not itself bring peace to conflict-affected areas, but funding violence is not an acceptable cost of doing business. European industry cannot afford to get left behind. We need to put strong conflict minerals regulation in place now.