Congo’s Conflict Minerals
A smartphone, a lightbulb, an underwire bra and a pair of earrings: These everyday items contain materials that human rights groups say help fuel one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts. The so-called conflict minerals are tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold, mined and extracted from ore often in war-torn areas such as eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where the mineral trade has been linked to armed groups that regularly commit mass atrocities, including rape and murder.
U.S. firms are spending millions to comply with a complex provision in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that requires companies to divulge their use of any of the four conflict minerals and disclose whether they originated in Congo or surrounding countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The 5-year-old rule has increased the demand for conflict-free minerals and has redirected some of the cash flow away from armed groups in eastern Congo. But recent reports revealed most companies that filed the disclosures were unable to source the minerals, and experts said a convoluted supply chain, costly audits and ongoing conflict in Congo’s mineral-rich east have created hurdles. The difficulty to comply with the provision also has raised fears some companies might choose to sever trade with the world’s poorest country, where corruption and violence are rife.
“There are these cultural or practicality issues that go beyond just the fact that Congo doesn’t have passable roads. There’s limitations or constraints wherever you look,” said Chris Bayer, an independent research consultant who specializes in conflict minerals. “I think it would turn off a company. It’s difficult for them to get quality data.”
U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in July 2010 in response to the Great Recession. Later that year, Congress enacted Section 1502 of the act to impose additional reporting requirements on U.S. companies to disclose their use of “conflict minerals” if they were “necessary to the functionality or production of a product” manufactured by those companies.