Ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, formerly known as Zaire) has claimed millions of lives over the past 15 years. The crisis in the Congo has been termed “Africa’s Civil War,” and is typified by brutal sexual violence, the forced recruitment of child soldiers, and the regular commission of atrocities by all sides, including countless roving militias and the Congolese Army.
The Congo conflict is largely a continuation of the 1994 Rwandan genocide: an ethnic struggle between warring Hutu and Tutsi factions that killed almost one million people. According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a well-respected non-governmental organization (NGO), the conflict in the Congo is the deadliest since World War II. The IRC estimates that 5.4 million people died between 1998 and 2007, concluding that, “The vast majority were not killed in combat [but] tragically died from malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition – easily preventable and treatable conditions when people have access to health care and nutritious food.”
The fighting today continues over ethnic tensions, political control, land rights and control over Congo’s vast natural resources. Key officials in the Congolese government and military are reportedly complicit in the atrocities, while militia leaders are routinely given official control over their fiefdoms – and allowed to continue business as usual – if they agree to join the Congolese military. The 2011 United Nations Human Development Report ranked the DRC last out of 187 countries on the UN Human Development Index, and determined that per capita income in the DRC has fallen by 80 percent over the last 40 years. According to an April 2012 report released by numerous Congolese and international civil society organizations, the DRC suffers from a lack of political governance and security that must be addressed before any significant reforms can take hold.
Section 1502 of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 requires certain publicly-traded corporations to annually disclose information to the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) regarding the sources of gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten present in their products or used in their manufacturing processes. If the minerals are sourced from the DRC or any of the nine adjacent countries, corporations are further directed to file reports regarding measures taken “to exercise due diligence on the source and chain of custody” of covered minerals in their supply chains.
The law directed the SEC to promulgate implementing regulations for Section 1502 by April 2011. To date, the Commission has met with numerous stakeholder groups and has hosted a public roundtable, but has yet to issue final regulations. Copies of ITI’s submissions to the SEC on conflict minerals can be found here and here.
The high-tech sector recognizes the serious social and environmental implications of illegal mineral trade within the DRC. Any mining activities that fuel conflict are unacceptable, and the high-tech sector will continue to work with the international community to drive transparency and responsible sourcing practices within global supply chains. Illegal activities related to these minerals are in part responsible for funding the ongoing crisis in the DRC, and we supported Congressional efforts to address this critical humanitarian issue.
While high-tech is only one of many major industries that rely on these metals, we continue to lead industry engagement and are working with all participants towards an effective solution. As part of this commitment, we are engaged in an ongoing and productive dialogue with leading NGOs.
Working through the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the Global eSustainability Initiative (GeSI), the high-tech sector has pioneered the Conflict-Free Smelter Program to drive clean minerals sourcing across global supply chains. Several high-tech companies and suppliers have also joined together to launch the Solutions for Hope Project to source conflict-free tantalum from the DRC and provide economic support and jobs.
Numerous tech sector companies support the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade (PPA), a joint initiative launched by the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, with participants from government, civil society and the private sector. The high tech sector has also led industry engagement on the development of the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas. In May 2012, ITI brought an industry delegation to Brussels to meet with European Commission officials to discuss how best to coordinate government, civil society and private sector initiatives to address the root causes of the ongoing conflict in the DRC.