Specialist in African Affairs
“Conflict minerals” are ores that, when sold or traded, have played key roles in helping to fuel conflict and extensive human rights abuses, since the late 1990s, in far eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The main conflict minerals are the so-called the “3TGs”: ores of tantalum and niobium, tin, tungsten, and gold, and their derivatives. Diverse international efforts to break the link between mineral commerce and conflict in central Africa have been proposed or are under way. Key initiatives include government and industry-led mineral tracking and certification schemes. These are designed to monitor trade in minerals to keep armed groups from financially benefitting from this commerce, in compliance with firm-level and/or industry due diligence policies that prohibit transactions with armed groups.
Congress has long been concerned about conflicts and human rights abuses in the DRC. Hearings during successive congresses have focused on ways to help end or mitigate their effects, and multiple resolutions and bills seeking the same goals have been introduced. Several have become law. The most extensive U.S. law aimed at halting the trade in conflict minerals, specifically the 3TGs, is Section 1502 of Title XV of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (P.L. 111-203). Among other ends, Section 1502 requires the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to issue rules mandating that SEC-regulated businesses that use conflict minerals in their products:
- report if they obtained their mineral supplies from the DRC or nearby countries;
- be permitted to label as “DRC conflict free” products that they can credibly demonstrate do not incorporate minerals sourced in a manner that directly or indirectly finances or benefits armed groups in DRC or adjoining countries;
- publicly report to the SEC on those of their products which do incorporate minerals that are not “DRC conflict free”—and which may not be labeled as such—and on diligence measures used to obtain these minerals.
- timing and a possible phase-in of rule implementation; and
- what due diligence standards are to be used.
The State Department has provided to Congress a strategy aimed at breaking the link between mineral trade and conflict and, together with the U.S. Agency for International Development, is implementing programs in central Africa to support tracking and certification schemes; local small-scale mining communities; anti-mining labor abuse efforts; and related ends.
In the short to medium term, Congress is likely to closely monitor Section 1502 rule-making and the effectiveness of any eventual rule and other conflict mineral-focused programs as they are implemented. Implementation is likely to be complex. While substantial financial and applied efforts are being invested in such efforts, conflict in eastern DRC has long posed a complex set of intractable security, governance, and human rights challenges, which such efforts alone are unlikely to overcome—and may complicate. An example of a possible unintended consequence of Section 1502 is a de facto buyers’ boycott of minerals from eastern DRC attributed to the delayed rule-making process and to other factors. It has generated a local economic crisis and increased smuggling of minerals, but also reportedly reduced conflict funding and spurred conflict mineral trade control efforts.
Date of Report: July 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 38
Order Number: R42618
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