Bipartisan Leadership on Conflict Minerals

Rick Goss photo

Four U.S. Senators – two Democratic, two Republican – have joined in introducing a Senate resolution calling for stronger diplomatic engagement to bring peace to the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Senator John Boozman, R-Ark., and Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., have united to send a clear message that a lasting solution to that region’s chronic conflict must be primarily driven by focused government engagement and supported by businesses and civil society.

This resolution puts forward smart policy approaches and can serve as a guide for U.S. and international engagement with the DRC and throughout Central Africa. 

Importantly, it is the same message that I recently delivered to a House subcommittee examining the implementation of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s conflict minerals disclosure and reporting requirements.  These requirements are intended to foster responsible supply chain practices for products that utilize minerals and metals from the region.

While the federal requirements have generated some positive effects, they have also resulted in unintended and unwelcomed consequences for at-risk populations in the DRC.  Given the history, scope and complexity of the political and military conflict in Central Africa, private sector approaches on their own miss the mark in providing a path toward lasting peace and security.

The conflict minerals reporting requirements are resulting in greater supply-chain transparency across economic sectors, and the provision has helped to convince regional governments to engage more fully in mining sector reforms.  However, the less-told story is that many companies are now avoiding the region altogether because of the heavy burdens the requirements place on responsible companies that want to remain in the region.  This development has had serious consequences for hundreds of thousands of local residents for whom mining is the only form of subsistence.  There is less demand, resulting in fewer jobs and lower wages.  The United Nations reports that, even as security has improved at some major mining centers, legitimate exports of tin, tantalum, and tungsten from the eastern DRC have all but halted.  Meanwhile, black market and other illicit activities continue apace.  In certain areas, food, medicine and medical care are scarce, prices have soared, and school enrollments have dropped sharply.

This is due in part to new federal requirements – enacted as part of the 2010 financial reform laws -- that focus so heavily on the private sector’s role in the region.  This near-exclusive focus on the private sector, however, diverts crucial attention away from the indispensable role of governments in addressing the endemic political, security and humanitarian crises in the region.

That’s why this bipartisan resolution is important.  It is a first step at resetting the balance in DRC engagement.  The DRC ranks last (187th out of 187 countries) in the U.N. Human Development Index, and has been riven by ethnic and political conflict for generations. Lasting peace will not be found at the end of corporate disclosures and mounds of paperwork; lasting peace will only come from the concerted efforts of the international community, the private sector and civil society to address the core problems in the area.  For our part, the tech sector will continue to work with this broader alliance for peace and stability in the region.

We welcome the bipartisan Senate resolution, and hope that it focuses attention on much-needed, multi-pronged security and governance approaches for the DRC.  The Congolese people need more than reporting requirements on an SEC database.  They need urgent international action to resolve the calamity that is befalling their country.

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