Many electronic products sold by European companies are derived from natural resources that fuel violence in countries around the world.
As the European Parliament prepares to debate legislation on responsible mineral sourcing (“conflict minerals”), 70 Church leaders from 26 countries on 4 continents signed a common statement urging the EU to make the legislation’s requirements consistent in scope and binding for companies, rather than the current voluntary approach. In this joint statement, supported by CIDSE, the international alliance of Catholic development agencies, the Church leaders write that European citizens expect not to be made complicit in financing conflict and human rights abuses.
In many Southern countries, the control, extraction, processing and trade of resources like minerals, wood, gas and oil finance armed groups, security and military forces who commit severe violations of human rights. These resources could contribute to urgently needed human development. Too often, people who find themselves in proximity to great mineral deposits experience extremely difficult living conditions, and extract those minerals at the risk of their lives. The proposed regulation is supposed to prevent what is commonly called the “natural resource curse”.
But, in order to bring tangible change to suffering communities, the signatories of this statement highlight that the European Commission proposal should be further strengthened in a few critical ways.
Firstly, the proposal only covers four minerals: tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. The letter underlines that in order to be consistent, a wider range of natural resources, such as copper, diamonds and other precious resources, should be included. During a visit to Brussels in early September, Father Ferdinand Muhigirwa Rusembuka SJ, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) recalled the situation on the ground: “Nearly 5 million artisanal miners in DRC are suffering from inhuman labour conditions, sometimes endangered by illegal armed groups taxing the small revenues they manage to extract. But this is not only the case in my country; Colombian coal miners or Burmese gem diggers might face the same situation. But the current proposal from the European Commission wouldn’t cover these minerals and thus not take into account many conflicts around the world linked to natural resource extraction.”
Secondly, the scope of companies covered by the law should be broadened from the limited number of primary importers of covered materials, to address the shared responsibility of companies along the entire supply chain. As mentioned in the statement, “including end-user companies in the scope will allow European citizens to bring positive influence to bear in setting the conditions for morality in supply chains.”
This Church leaders’ letter is also a strong sign of solidarity with communities under threat, signified by the signatures of Bishops from a wide number of countries where there are serious human rights violations occurring in relation to natural resource extraction.
This expression of solidarity was concretely demonstrated earlier this summer when a delegation of European Bishops accompanied by CIDSE visited a mine in Guatemala and listened to the villagers who are protesting against the negative impacts of the project. Alongside the environmental impacts of the mine, one clear social impact is the increased criminalization of the protesters. Police, together with the company’s private security forces, had evicted peaceful protesters from the neighbouring communities on May 23, 2014. This is an increasingly common case in Latin America and around the world.
In light of this wider context, and acknowledging the powerful dynamics in regions affected by conflict, the Church leaders’ letter finally calls for a mandatory due diligence system that follows best practices of the related OECD guidance. The signatories assure that “nothing less will be able to change the behavior of companies and other actors.”
The legislation on conflict minerals will be discussed in the European Parliament starting in November. The Church leaders’ letter is part of a larger campaign by a coalition of NGO’s, including CIDSE.
Contact: Denise Auclair, CIDSE Senior Policy Adviser (auclair(at)cidse.org).
NB: this article was originally published in europeinfos #176, November 2014.
Europeinfos is the monthly newsletter of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.