European companies may soon have to ensure that their products do not contain so-called “conflict minerals” that are often mined by slaves. The European Parliament “made history” yesterday, according to a statement by Amnesty International and Global Witness, by approving “a strong and binding law to tackle the deadly trade in conflict minerals.”
“The groundbreaking proposal would require European companies importing four key minerals – tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold – to ensure their purchases are not contributing to conflict or human rights abuses in other countries. Crucially, the new law would also require European companies importing minerals in products, such as laptops and mobile phones, to source minerals responsibly for the first time,” the groups say.
Free the Slaves research has documented that conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are frequently mined by slaves, including children. Our investigations, The Congo Report and Congo’s Mining Slaves, uncovered widespread slavery in mining communities.
“Today’s vote in the European Parliament represents a great victory for communities affected by human rights abuses fueled by natural resource extraction,” according to a statement on Wednesday by the International Alliance of Catholic Development Agencies (CIDSE)
Free the Slaves supporters participated with our colleagues at Walk Free in a global petition drive in April to urge the European Parliament to take action. The new rule passed this week goes much further than voluntary compliance proposals that were being suggested.
“This evolution is a clear victory, though some gaps remain,” CIDESE says. “The requirement needs to be better defined, to ensure that it qualifies as true due diligence. And many natural resources fueling conflicts around the world, such as copper or coal, are not taken into account in this regulation. But the message to the European Council and the European Commission is clear: A voluntary opt-in system for importers of raw materials is unacceptable.”
The vote by the European Parliament sets the stage for negotiations with other European agencies and individual countries to implement the new standards.
Yesterday’s action by the European Parliament goes beyond regulations established three years ago in the United States. America’s Conflict Minerals Rule requires major publicly-held companies to investigate and disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission if their products contain tin, tungsten, tantalum or gold from sources that benefit armed groups in the DRC and neighbouring countries. But the U.S. rule does not require responsible sourcing; it only requires corporate transparency.
A new report this week from the Responsible Sourcing Network says 1,315 companies have submitted conflict minerals disclosures so far in the U.S. The report says companies in the IT sector have been “top performers” in complying with the law, while the energy equipment, health care equipment, and containers and packaging sectors are “lagging.”
Learn more about slavery in the DRC’s mining sector on our Congo webpage.
Learn more about removing slavery-tainted raw materials from corporate supply chains on our slavery-free commerce webpage.