The European Union just passed a measure making it harder for companies to buy conflict minerals. The bill was hobbled by loopholes at the last minute, but it still manages to bring a little more integrity to global trade.
Now, EU companies can’t directly buy conflict minerals from suppliers. However, the rule doesn’t apply to companies that buy finished products involving conflict minerals because a loophole essentially allows companies to dilute the trace of conflict minerals within a complicated supply chain. So, for example, if conflict minerals travel through numerous middlemen, then that’s okay according to the new regulation.
And that’s essentially the path that most conflict minerals take to begin with — massive transnational corporations construct elaborate supply chains that give them room to plausibly deny any connection to conflicts.
“This Regulation is a welcome step forward,” said Michael Gibb of Global Witness, a major opponent of conflict minerals, in a press release. “But while the EU has sent a strong signal to a small group of companies, it has ultimately trusted that many more will continue to regulate themselves. It is now up to these companies to show that this trust is well-placed and well-earned; and we expect our lawmakers to act if it is not.”
Despite the obvious shortcomings, the bill is still a victory for advocates of fair trade. It’s the first global law to ban the direct purchase of conflict minerals and it covers a primary destination for conflict minerals, the EU.
In 2010, The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act stipulated that US companies had to begin documenting the use of conflict minerals in their products, but this was the extent of it. Of course, the thinking went, public pressure was expected to shame and incentivize companies, but that hasn’t fully happened yet.
Dodd-Frank did bring greater accountability and it further illuminated the scope of the problem. Now, transnational companies just have to take responsibility and fully vet their supply chains to eliminate the use of conflict minerals.
The EU law goes futher by flat-out banning conflict mineral purchases.
“Concluding these negotiations is an important step, despite the limited scope of the new law,” said Frederic Triest of EurAc. “But this is only the beginning of the process, not the end. Now is the time for companies to show that they are serious about meeting their responsibilities; for EU member states to show that they are committed to enforcing the standards which have now been established; and for the EU to make use of all its resources to promote a more sustainable and responsible sourcing of minerals worldwide.”
What are conflict minerals?
A conflict resource is any resource — lumber, oil, diamonds — harvested through exploitation and terror during or after a conflict. In fact, they’re often the chief engines of conflict, because they may directly fund and bolster armed militias vying for power or violent regimes. ISIS, for example, is able to maintain its position in Iraq and Syria partly through funding from “conflict oil,” oil looted from battlefields and sold on the black market.
Blood diamonds are the most well-known in this broad category, but there are many conflict minerals and they comprise an enormous global industry fueling violence and poverty.
Read More: A Look Into Blood Diamonds
A lot of these minerals are sold on the black market, but a much larger share ends up in the products we all use on a daily basis. If you own a Samsung or Apple cell phone, it most likely contains cobalt harvested in conflict zones in the Democratic Republic of Congo — the primary source of conflict minerals. Nearly all conflict minerals come from Congo and surrounding countries in areas controlled by militias.
There are four main conflict minerals: cassiterite (tin), wolframite (tungsten), coltan (tantalum), and gold ore. They're commonly referred to as 3TGs for their initials.
For more on how to avoid conflict minerals check out the video below.