ASK: How Well Do You Know Your Supply Chain?

In order to have a responsible supply chain, we also have to factor into that how the diggers are being treated. And that's what responsible sourcing should really be about. Of course it's about breaking the links between minerals and conflict, but it's bigger than that. It's much more holistic than that. And that's what we would like to see companies working towards.

By Fault Lines Digital Team with Sophia Pickles - Al Jazeera America

Twenty-four trillion dollars worth of minerals lie beneath the surface of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the country that comes in at number 186 out of 187 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index.

That rank is partly the result of a five-year war, lasting from 1998 to 2003, that is believed to be the most violent since World War II. Armed groups are still a presence in Congo, and about a decade ago, humanitarian aid organizations in the West realized that militias were presiding over many of the mineral mines, threatening workers, taxing output, forcing children to work and committing various human rights atrocities.

A sustained campaign took hold on the Internet and on college campuses around the U.S. to push for Congo’s minerals—especially the so-called 3Ts, tantalum, tin and tungsten, which often end up in electronics made by companies like Apple, Intel and Motorola—to be certified conflict-free.

In 2010, a resolution known as 1502 was added to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. It called for companies relying on minerals from Congo to ensure that they were mined free from the presence of armed groups. Over the past five years, 160 mines in the eastern region of the country have been certified conflict-free, and their wares carry tags with numeric codes to signal that they meet the new standards.

"Fault Lines" recently traveled to Congo and found that while the presence of armed groups seems to be down, miners are losing work and money as a result of the new regulations. Also, smuggling appears to be rampant, as minerals from uncertified mines are still able to make it out of Congo and onto the international market.

Sophia Pickles is a senior campaigner with Global Witness, a London-based non-profit that advocates for full transparency in the mining, logging, oil and gas sectors. She has herself documented fraud and illegal activity within the supply chain in Congo, but holds firm that the legislation was a crucial step toward pushing U.S. companies to pay attention to the impact of their sourcing on mining communities. 

"Fault Lines" spoke to Pickles about some of the challenges involved in implementing Dodd-Frank Section 1502 in Congo. An edited version of that conversation follows. READ MORE

Image: Luwowo Coltan, one of several validated mining site that respect CIRGL-RDC norms and guaranties conflict free minerals, Photo Credit: MONUSCO/Sylvain Liechti

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