The European Parliament’s International Trade Committee, of which I am a member, have been discussing with experts how to best break the link between mineral extraction and armed violent conflict, in Africa, while at the same time promoting legitimate trade which is in the interest of economic development.
The European Commission has put forward draft legislation that proposes to promote companies high in the supply chain to source minerals and gold responsibly from conflict areas.
The ethical issues concerning the mineral components contained in electronic devices can be easily overlooked. The mining of certain minerals (including tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold) has been linked with horrific human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia and other conflict zones. The trade in these minerals, essential for the components of electronic goods, is often used to finance violent conflict by paying for armed groups and security forces. Workers in these poor but resource-rich countries are often ‘hired’ at gunpoint and their families terrorised and under constant threat.
These ‘conflict minerals’ are entering the supply chains of multinational companies and ending up in many of the increasingly popular products that we buy, most notably laptops and mobile phones.
As the world’s largest trading bloc the European Union (EU) can have an influence on global supply chains and bring in strong and effective legislation to enable businesses and consumers to check whether their purchases have funded conflict and human rights abuse.
The 400 European importers identified that source minerals from countries at war represent 34 per cent of the global market in these components.
The new draft legislation being brought forward by the European Commission sets out the key elements to encourage these businesses to carry out thorough supply chain checks to make sure they are not using or trading natural resources that are funding violence. A key issue is whether the proposed regulation will be for a mandatory or voluntary requirement.
As informed consumers we should be able to use our purchasing power to drive change and no longer unwittingly contribute to further conflict and abuse. For that to be effective this requirement must be mandatory.
• David Martin is a Lothians-based Labour MEP