After the draft regulation proposed by the European Commission last year to put an end to the use of revenues from mining to finance armed conflicts, the discussion about conflict minerals has been on the table.
This article was originally published in europeinfos #180, March 2015. Europeinfos is the monthly newsletter of COMECE and the Jesuit European Social Centre.
Recent investigations into business relations between Europe and Africa, Asia and Latin America have revealed an involvement of European businesses with groups and forces perpetuating violence and abuses in many regions of the world, when producing new laptops or mobile phones. In many Southern countries, the extraction, processing and trade of many natural resources contained in consumer products sold in Europe finance armed groups who commit severe violations of human rights.
125 Catholic leaders from around the world have come together in an unprecedented call for the EU rules to be binding and consistent and signed a common statement, which was first released in October 2014 and has continued to gain support among European and other bishops, especially now ahead of crucial votes at the European Parliament (EP).
Bishops from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who know first-hand the consequences of conflict minerals on local communities, are also among the signatories. The Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo is rich in minerals, but, alongside the wealth of natural resources both under and above ground, the majority of people are living in misery. Children struggle to have enough food to eat and often cannot go to school, deprived of the most basic needs. Young people live without prospects of employment and lack sufficient means of livelihood. And beside misery, violence is a constant threat in DRC: some mining sites are under the control of militias, and their exploitation generates revenues that fuel conflict instead of improving the livelihood of the people.
“Since I know the misery our people are living in, and how the anarchic, non-coordinated and even illegal exploitation of natural resources contributed to the impoverishment of our people, we didn’t hesitate to sign,” said the Democratic Republic of Congo Bishop Fridolin Ambongo, President of the Episcopal Commission on Natural Resources. He added: “Our hope is that there will be a clear law regulating the exploitation of natural resources and that this will oblige big companies to follow the rules and to be transparent”. Mgr Ambongo and Mgr Fulgence Muteba, Bishop of Kilwa-Kasenga (DRC) visited the European Parlament in February accompanied by CIDSE. They had the chance to meet with some key Parliamentary leadership to share with them how the Church is working with suffering communities, and what would be needed for the regulation to contribute to breaking the links between natural resources and conflicts; they are now hoping for their requests to be taken into account.
The Democratic Republic of Congo provides an example of the urgency with which we should regulate the situation. The EU already proved its willingness to act strongly in 2013 on payment transparency in the extractive industries. The Members of the European Parliament now have a crucial opportunity to continue building on this success by strengthening the weak proposal made by the European Commission.
One of the elements of the proposal of the European Commission that is being questioned relates to the effectiveness of a voluntary scheme in meeting the objective of breaking the link between conflicts and natural resources. In the Democratic Republic of Congo and Great Lakes region, binding rules have recently been put into place to certify the origin of raw materials. Bishops from the Democratic Republic of Congo have witnessed first-hand how the 2010 US legislation Dodd Frank Act, section 1502 has spurred changes on the ground by business actors of all nationalities towards responsible mineral sourcing.
Church leaders also draw attention to the need to be consistent in the natural resources covered. For our sisters and brothers in local communities who suffer from human rights abuses and violence, it does not matter if companies mine for tin or gold, which would be covered by the current proposal, or copper and diamonds in countries like Myanmar or Zimbabwe, which would not. Potentially all minerals can be a source of conflict.
We recall the words of Pope Francis to the European Parliament last November: “Today, the promotion of human rights is central to the commitment of the European Union to advance the dignity of the person, both within the Union and in its relations with other countries. … The time has come to work together in building a Europe which revolves not around the economy, but around the sacredness of the human person, around inalienable values.”