Conflict Minerals Law Is Heavy Burden On Business, House Republicans Argue – by Christina Wilkie (Huffington Post – May 22, 2013)

WASHINGTON — Republicans at a House subcommittee hearing this week objected to a 2010 law that targets conflict minerals from Central Africa, saying it places too many regulations on U.S. businesses and hasn’t accomplished enough since it went into effect.

“Some of us may pat ourselves on the back and say, ‘Well, we’re making sure we’re not using their minerals,’ but we’re only hurting the people of the Congo,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), who called the law “a massive paperwork burden on U.S. companies.”

Profits from mining of lucrative minerals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have helped fund a brutal conflict between rebel militias and government troops that has claimed more than 5 million lives since 1998. For those who live in the conflict areas of eastern Congo, the threat of rape and mutilation is constant; both are used as weapons of war. In the isolated mining camps of the region, men and boys often work in debt bondage or outright slavery. Above ground, women and girls are even more vulnerable to the violence, and desperation forces many of them into the commercial sex trade.

The conflict minerals law originated with then-Sen. Sam Brownback, now the Republican governor of Kansas, who argued in 2008 that “with 1,500 people dying a day [in the Congo’s civil war], there is no room for turning a blind eye on this matter.” Bolstered by the support of United Nations experts and human rights groups, Brownback’s plan became law two years later, as Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation.

Mines in eastern Congo produce tin, tungsten and tantalum, which are used in a wide variety of consumer electronics, everything from videocameras to hearing aids and laptops. Gold is considered a fourth conflict mineral in the Congo, where its value per ounce makes it a highly desirable commodity for smugglers.

The federal act requires publicly traded companies to verify whether their supply chains contain minerals mined in the conflict-ridden parts of the DRC and to file a report with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The goal is to cut off a major source of funding to the rebel armies that terrorize wide swaths of eastern DRC.

On Tuesday, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade, chaired by Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), met to explore the “unintended consequences” of Section 1502.

Over the course of two hours, the members of the committee and witnesses who opposed the conflict minerals law made textbook arguments for deregulation, starting with the claim that Section 1502 placed too great of a burden on U.S. corporations, making them less competitive and limiting their ability to create jobs.

Rick Goss, a lobbyist with the Information Technology Industry Council, described how “countless companies are fulfilling redundant paperwork obligations … writing reports and scheduling audits,” in order to conform to the regulations, which he said, “yield few, if any, benefits to the people of the Congo.”

Goss was one of three witnesses who expressed significant doubts about Section 1502, although, like everyone else at the hearing, he was careful to say he endorsed the overall goal of peace and stability in the region.

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