Press release | Feb. 1, 2016

EU governments in danger of missing crucial opportunity to reduce global conflict

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The EU will miss a crucial opportunity to reduce global conflict unless member states stop their attempts to drastically dilute a new law that could help end the funds armed groups and terrorists receive from so-called conflict minerals.

Global Witness warns that the EU governments’ proposed conflict minerals law would have extremely limited impact and fall well below internationally agreed standards. The draft law will be negotiated for the first time in Strasbourg today.

The law that governments have put on the negotiating table is a major step backwards for the EU, as it would fail to cover companies importing products that could contain conflict minerals and also drastically lowers the standard of due diligence expected from  manufacturers and traders. The EU has previously endorsed international standards for the minerals sector, but governments have now back-tracked.

If EU governments fail to change their stance, says Global Witness, the EU would be left trailing behind the US, China and several African states which already have stronger measures in place.

“We’ve seen a huge amount of hand-wringing from EU leaders about the impact of conflict but now they’re failing to help change a trade which is driving conflict, corruption and instability around the world. This is incoherent and short-sighted foreign policy,” - said Emily Norton, Conflict Resources campaigner at Global Witness.

“It’s of course important that the EU is able to facilitate trade. But not checking whether your supply chains are financing conflict or fuelling human rights abuses is unacceptable. Irresponsible business can drive developing countries towards war and instability which obviously has huge human and financial costs. We have mandatory laws on money-laundering and terrorist financing, so why not on conflict minerals?”

Documents seen by Global Witness show EU member states proposing a voluntary conflict minerals law which only covers companies importing raw forms of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold and ignores those bringing products containing those same minerals, such as cars, laptops and mobile phones, into the EU.

The Council’s approach is directly at odds with the EU Parliament’s vote, in May 2015, for a compulsory due diligence law for the minerals sector that would cover both importers of raw minerals and products containing those minerals. The Parliament’s vote for a mandatory law echoed calls from almost 150 religious leadersglobal investors, business leaders and companies, as well as over 150 international campaigning organisations.

“The EU Council is recommending a voluntary law but there are already voluntary guidelines for the minerals sector that the majority of companies in the EU continue to ignore. EU leaders must recognise that a mandatory law in line with international standards is needed to trigger meaningful change in the sector” said Norton. “EU citizens who are buying laptops and mobile phones also have the right to know that the companies have sourced the key ingredients responsibly.”

“While a strong due diligence law won’t be a magic solution to ending conflict around the world it is a crucial first step in changing a system which has fuelled and prolonged conflicts for many years.”



Notes to editor:

  1. The EU is a major player in the global trade in minerals, as well as the second biggest importer of laptops and mobile phones in the world, but – unlike the US and several African states – it has no laws to ensure that minerals are sourced responsibly. 
  2. The law proposed by the EU Council falls below the internationally recognised OECD due diligence standard in key ways. For example, it ignores all companies that place products containing tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold on the EU market. These minerals are found in many products including mobile phones, laptops and cars. It also significantly limits the risk assessment that companies such as manufacturers and traders are expected to carry out along their supply chain. For example, it only asks them to check metal processor’s audits, allowing them to ignore independent reports of human rights abuses and child labour from bodies including the UN and civil society organisations. 
  3. Over 9.4 million people have been displaced by deadly conflicts in the Central African Republic, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which have been partly fuelled by the minerals trade in tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold. (Source: UN Refugee Agency, August 2014, ‘Central African Republic Situation, Regional Update 30’; UNHCR Country Operations Profile for DRC; Ignacio Gómez G, 4 March 2012, The Center for Public Integrity; Consultoria para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento (CODHES), June 2014, ‘El Desplazamiento Forzado y la Imperiosa Necesidad de la Paz: Informe desplazamiento 2013’.)
  4. The EU Trilogue negotiations on the draft conflict minerals law begin today in Strasbourg. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Presidency of the European Council will attempt to agree a compromise text in the coming months. 
  5. The European Parliament voted on 20 May for a strong law that would require companies that place tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold on the EU market—whether as raw materials or within products—to carry out due diligence and publicly report in line with the international OECD standard. 
  6. Global Witness is campaigning for Member States to support the European Parliament’s call for a strong EU law, as part of a coalition of over 80 international civil society organisations, including Amnesty International, EURAC and Christian Aid. 
  7. For more information on our coalition’s recommendations to EU policy makers since September 2013, see here
  8. For more information on Global Witness’ EU conflict minerals campaign, including an FAQ, see here.  

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