This past Wednesday in Brussels, the European Union (EU) hosted a “Workshop on a possible comprehensive ‘EU initiative on minerals originating from conflict areas’.” This particular forum was limited to EU officials and invited experts from the OECD, academia, civil society and the business community. The EU will likely advance the initiative in 2013, first with a public consultation and subsequently by developing draft proposals. While the workshop broadly considered global links between armed conflict and raw materials sourcing, the principal emphasis was on “conflict minerals” sourced from Central Africa.
ITI was privileged to participate in the workshop and to emphasize the accomplishments that the high tech and electronics sectors have driven by developing implementation mechanisms such as the Conflict-Free Smelter Program and the Solutions for Hope initiative. While we acknowledged that the private sector has a key supporting role to play, we urged EU officials to primarily focus on the essential responsibility of governments to confront the devastating violence, displacement, disease and malnutrition in Central Africa. This ongoing political and humanitarian crisis is principally driven by ingrained ethnic tensions and disputes over land rights, and is aggravated by the virtual absence of proper governance, security and infrastructure.
ITI supported the EU’s stated premise that a comprehensive approach to conflict and resource extraction would need to rely on a combination of diplomacy, trade policy, financial strategies, and development assistance. We also urged the EU to adopt a cautious and consistent approach when contemplating the question of the private sector’s role. ITI noted that there are several existing efforts and initiatives - including U.S. law and regulations, OECD Guidance, and the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights – that currently define private sector engagement. We stressed that EU action should complement these existing initiatives, and underscored the compelling need for increased government support of clean in-region sourcing mechanisms and regional development efforts.
The general tone of the workshop was very constructive, with the momentum leaning towards the EU first considering the role that the international community must play in tackling the underlying causes of conflict in the region and throughout the world. At the end of the workshop, our hosts reaffirmed their intent to reflect upon the dialogue at the workshop, to build upon existing approaches, and to evaluate the role of government across many platforms. They also agreed to consider the private sector’s call for flexibility and incentives, rather than punitive mandates that can drive legitimate business from the region and harm local populations.
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