Painting by Cheri Samba

Lokuta eyaka na ascenseur, kasi vérité eyei na escalier mpe ekomi. Lies come up in the elevator; the truth takes the stairs but gets here eventually. - Koffi Olomide

Ésthetique eboma vélo. Aesthetics will kill a bicycle. - Felix Wazekwa

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Conflict Minerals: Summary of Initiatives

I thought it would be good to get an overview of various initiatives underway to help regulate the minerals trade in the eastern DRC. The basic idea is to reduce the amount armed groups are profiting from the minerals trade. Different scholars have different views about the importance of the minerals trade in the conflict. Some groups, such as ENOUGH, have portrayed the conflict as one driven largely by armed groups fighting over resources. Others, such as Belgian academic Koen Vlassenroot and Resource Consulting Services, place mining in the larger context of institutional collapse and emphasize the role that mining plays in providing a livelihood for unemployed youths.

I have suggested that mining was not at the root of the conflict, nor will cutting conflict minerals out of supply chains end the conflict. However, this is strategically perhaps one of the best approaches - it could weaken armed groups, transform the political economy of the region and strengthen the Congolese state apparatus. (In a very ideal world).

It is pretty amazing how this issue has been able to mobilize various constituencies, more than MONUC drawdown, perhaps equally as much as sexual violence. For the many skeptics of these two approaches (sexual violence and conflict minerals) - usually because of how reductive they are - we need to consider the fact that there are two bills currently in Congress on this issue and Hillary Clinton visited the Congo and has tasked her Undersecretary of State Bob Hormats to come up with a strategy for conflict minerals. This past week, Stanford University has recommended that its Board of Trustees take conflict minerals in the Congo into consideration in its investment portfolio. They said:

We recommend that the University vote in favor of well-written and reasonable shareholder resolutions that ask companies for reports on their policies and efforts regarding their avoidance of conflict minerals and conflict mineral derivatives.

Other initiatives underway are:

1. Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD): They are currently drafting voluntary guidelines for due diligence in the supply chain. This is in response to calls from the G-8 meeting in L'Aquila last year and pressure from member states. I attended a workshop on their current draft in Paris last week - the guidelines are supposed to be a risk-based approach for companies to assess how risky their trade with the Congo is in terms of potential complicity in supporting armed groups, promoting corruption and child labor and harming the environment. Hopefully this will come to fruition by the end of the year.

2. UN Group of Experts on the DRC: The Security Council asked the GoE to draft recommendations for due diligence in the eastern DRC. Their interim report is due any time now, and their final report will be out in October this year.

3. Global Witness is pushing for companies to immediately begin supply chain due diligence and for host governments to hold companies responsible for violations of the OECD guidelines for for multinational enterprises.

4. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR): This is a regional body that is promoting economic and political cooperation in the region. A few weeks ago, member states (including Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi) committed themselves to a draft proposal that has each member state carrying out certification of minerals in its own territory and the creation of a regional database of minerals trade. In addition, there would be third party audits of these supply chains carried out by independent auditors. (I don't think the draft is public yet, so I will reserve comment for now).

5. The tin industry has begun its own tin certification scheme under its international tin body ITRI. They will be beginning a pilot program in the Kivus soon. This is the scheme that the Congolese government is backing and may be the means of certification they mention in the ICGLR draft. (See here for an article criticizing the ITRI approach)

6. The German government is also involved in a custody chain of natural resources through its Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), and they are working with the Congolese government and the ICGLR, but I must admit I haven't been following this closely.

7. The US government, as noted above, is pushing forward with legislation and perhaps even through State Department. The senate has also asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to draft a report for them on what is currently being done in the sector.


No Blood Minerals said...

Thanks for the good summary on the initiatives. I woudl be interested in hearing more of an update on what happened at the OECD meeting in Paris.

Further to your note 5, here is another article which is critical of the tin industry's ITRI approach:

The activities at the OECD, EICC, HR4128, etc. are helping to bring this issue to more people's attention. Let's hope it continues and gets to evern more people who can force change.


Unknown said...

Typically, you forget the DRC initiatives.

Jason Stearns said...

Unless I am mistaken, the DRC government's main initiatives, as I mentioned above, are the ITRI one, which they have signed onto, and the ICGLR one.

Of course, SAESSCAM and the ministry of mines are already trying to regulate the mining industry, but they don't have any specific efforts other than the ITRI and ICGLR ones, to my knowledge, to exclude conflict minerals from the supply chain. For example, they have not taken any steps to investigate the minerals traders mentioned in GW or UN reports.

David said...

There have been some interesting efforts to get industry, government, and civil society talking about this issue in the Kivus, such as the work of Observatoire Gouvernance et Paix (OGP). But I think they wound up endorsing the ITRI plan, which is kind of unfortunate.

Anonymous said...

Hard not to wonder: will all the initiatives work at such cross purpose to one another that they actually end up contradicting another thereby providing companies with such large loopholes their own very large mining equipment could drive right through them?

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Interesting that you put conflict minerals and sexual violence at the same level calling them "approaches". sexual violence is not an "approach" for anyone, it's just a sad characteristic of the DRC conflict that actors are trying, with little results in terms of preventing, alas, to tackle as such. It's a necessity, not an approach to the roots of the conflict, like analysis or actions on conflict minerals.

BenRymer said...

Julie, by "approach" I think Jason meant ways in which to mitigate violence and change actors incentives and capabilites in the region.

His references to sexual violence did not seem to me to be an attempt to pigeonhole rape as more or less serious as the violence resulting from natural resource rent predation.

Jason, isn't DRC on the waiting list for full EITI country status?

Noelle_Macumba said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Noelle_Macumba said...

We shouldn't forget that flow of wealth moves in one direction only, OUT of the Congo, and that Rwanda and Uganda are making loads of money off of their proxy operations in the DRC (executed by armed groups). The BBC just released news about Uganda's first gold refinery, making no secret that the minerals have origins in the Congo.

When you allow the same governments that invaded the Congo to set the standards for acceptable mining practices, will the Congolese be better off? No, it will merely make legal the practices that continue to inflict poverty and misery on the people.

The conflict minerals approach must be combined with political pressure and condemnation of the governments that fund and profit from the rape of the Congo.

To learn more about the current crisis in the Congo, visit: and join the global movement in support of the people of the Congo at

DM said...

EICC was cited in the Group of Experts last report as being represented by an individual who last year was heavily involved in the conflict minerals processing chain. Its not just a question of what initiatives are out there, but rather WHO is running those initiatives.

Jason Stearns said...

A few clarifications:

By sexual violence "approach" I meant that the conflict in the Congo is seen through the lens of sexual violence, which is what some NGOs are doing by equating rape as a weapon of war to control minerals. As these NGOs themselves admit, they often do this strategically in order to raise awareness. Sexual violence is indeed a sad reality of the conflict and persists on a massive a tragic scale, but it is a complex phenomenon and not easily reducible to the struggle over natural resources.

The Congo became an EITI candidate in 2008. They have asked for an extension to get EITI validation - they now have until September 2010 to submit the final validation report to EITI.

Anonymous said...

I see. You mean "communication/PR approach". Well of course it is reductive unfortunately, since it is made to -attract the attention- of people who initially don't care (and you don't attract attention with complicated messages). But it is their role, as yours it to put this in perspective and give background, explanations and potential strategic options. They are -necessary-, as well as you are. So maybe better to look at complementarity (which would also allow to avoid certain counter-productive excess) between the 2 kind of actors.

Caity Monroe said...

Hi Jason,

We just wanted to say thank you for including Stanford's new conflict minerals initiative your blog! We here at STAND (Stanford's anti-genocide/mass atrocity group on campus) are really excited about the progress we've made so far. The Board of Trustees is voting in June, and we will keep you posted and hopefully report back with some good news in about a month.

Thanks again!
Caity and Stanford STAND

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