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Opportunity for change in eastern Congo's mines must be seized

Global Witness - May 18, 2011
Sacks of tin ore being loaded onto a plane near Bisie, for transportation to Goma
Sacks of tin ore being loaded onto a plane near Bisie, for transportation to Goma. Companies sourcing minerals from eastern Congo must carry out comprehensive supply chain due diligence in line with international standards to ensure they are not fuelling conflict or abuse through their purchases. Kate Holt

Shifts in the control of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) mines have created opportunities to begin breaking the links between the mineral trade and the conflict that has plagued civilians for over a decade, says a new report from Global Witness today.  

For years, rebel groups and members of the Congolese national army have made millions of dollars through illegal control of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold mines and trading routes, while inflicting appalling suffering on the local population. 

Congo’s mineral trade in the balance: opportunities and obstacles to demilitarisation uses recent field research by Global Witness to highlight some significant changes and outline what the key players must do to capitalise on them.  It says that while much of eastern Congo’s mineral trade remains under armed control, the departure of armed groups from Bisie - the region’s largest tin mine - is a promising development.

“There are real opportunities to clean up eastern Congo’s mineral trade, but they are localised, fragmented and may not last,” said Annie Dunnebacke, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness. “To take advantage, companies must apply supply chain controls in line with international standards, so that the mining sector drives development instead of fuelling violence. The Congolese government and the UN must also work with the private sector to claim recently demilitarised areas like Bisie for clean trade, before the army and other armed groups move back in.  This must happen fast, or the moment will be lost.”

The report’s main findings and recommendations are:

  • In March the Congolese army withdrew from Bisie, the region’s largest tin ore mine, after controlling it illegally for over five years. It is essential that a legitimate trade in minerals from Bisie is now established, through effective policing of the area and the rapid imposition of effective supply chain checks by companies. The UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO must play its part in helping keep Bisie and other demilitarised sites free of army units and other armed groups.
  • Elsewhere in eastern Congo, the main beneficiaries of a recent six month mining ban imposed by the Congolese government appear to have been senior military commanders, who have been able to consolidate their hold on extortion and smuggling rackets.
  • Companies operating in DRC and neighbouring countries have so far failed to comply with due diligence standards set out by the UN Security Council and the OECD. This is holding up efforts to break the link between minerals and armed violence in eastern Congo, and is preventing the establishment of a clean minerals trade.
  • Rwanda, the key conduit for Congolese minerals, is not yet doing enough to weed out conflict minerals along its supply chains from DRC. Recently introduced schemes involving tagging and tracing minerals are a promising step in the right direction, but are not sufficiently comprehensive. The Rwandan government must bring in and impose full due diligence requirements for all companies which trade and process minerals.

The movement on the ground comes at a crucial stage in international efforts to stem the flow of conflict minerals from DRC. The UN Security Council and the OECD have recently endorsed new standards of “due diligence”, which require companies to carry out standardised, independently audited checks on their supply chains to show they are not financing warring parties in the region.

Meanwhile, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulator will later this year announce what companies must do to comply with ground-breaking new legislation designed to eliminate conflict minerals from the global trade. Global Witness is calling on the SEC to incorporate the UN/OECD due diligence standards directly into their regulations, and to publish these at the earliest opportunity.

"The choice that Congo faces is not - as some companies present it - between an embargo or business as usual with all its brutal human consequences,” said Dunnebacke. “Companies can make a huge positive difference by implementing proper supply chain controls in line with agreed international standards. If they do this, then finally Congo's citizens will be able to benefit from some of their mineral wealth rather than seeing it flow to predatory armed groups and militias.”

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