Only legislation will stop minerals being traded at the expense of human rights – by Zobel Behalal (The Guardian – December 16, 2013)

Conflict minerals found in cars, electronics and other products will only be eradicated with new laws and business buy-in

One of the key drivers underpinning some of the world’s worst ongoing violent conflicts over the past few years is the extraction and trade of natural resources.

Recently in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Séléka rebels, who have carried out acts of violence against their people, have taken advantage of the diamonds trade to consolidate their power. This has led to the exclusion of the CAR from the Kimberley process aimed at tackling conflict diamonds.

Meanwhile in the Democratic Republic of Congo the extraction of cassiterite, gold, tungsten and coltan has financed warring factions for the past two decades, in a conflict that has already resulted in millions of victims.

But Africa does not have a monopoly on this kind of problem. In Burma the mining industry was militarised for several decades, with the national army controlling mining sites, business operations and exportation. While in Colombia tantalum, wolframite and gold mines as well as their respective business concerns are controlled and taxed by armed groups.

Products that have funded conflicts can only reach the international market with participation of the businesses that buy and use them. An article published by Bloomberg revealed that BMWs, Ferraris, Porches and Volkswagens contain tungsten and wolframite that come from businesses under the control of the FARC Colombian rebels. This is far from being an isolated case as these minerals are used in the making of components that can be found in the majority of everyday electronic, aeronautical and defence equipment.

The trade of natural resources continues at the expense of violence and human rights violations. There is an urgent need to create a win-win contract between the economic actors and the local populations in order to create real and sustainable development in countries rich in natural resources.

Due diligence must be enforced as a mandatory requirement throughout the supply chain of natural resources. Those businesses would be obliged by law to adopt measures and processes in line with internationally accepted standards to identify and avoid the risks of financing conflicts or violence.

The US has shown the way with the Dodd-Frank Act. The delay between the adoption of the law and and its application in practice have created a certain element of fear on the part of the businesses with regards to the DRC’s and its neighbour’s resources.

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