The next big corporate social responsibility movement – to end the deadly trade in Congo’s conflict minerals – got a major boost today with the introduction of the Conflict Minerals Trade Act (HR 4128), introduced by Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA). Co-sponsored by Representatives Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Barney Frank (D-MA), the bill would help break the link between the ongoing violence in Congo and the trade in minerals essential to our electronics devices. The bill ultimately calls for companies importing certain electronic devices to declare whether or not they are “conflict-free.”
Introducing the legislation at a press conference at the Capitol, Rep. McDermott said that the drive to tackle conflict minerals comes “from the heart as much as from the head,” mentioning his service in Congo’s capital of Kinshasa for the State Department years ago. Senator Brownback (R-KS), who introduced conflict minerals legislation in the Senate earlier this year, offered remarks as well, noting that the blood diamonds campaign provides a proven model for this type of consumer driven action. Representatives from the Congolese embassy, NGOs (including Enough’s John Norris), and the electronics industry joined them at the podium. Here are some clips:
Paired with the Senate’s Congo Conflict Minerals Act (S. 891), this new House legislation provides a powerful tool for advocates to rally behind. A broad coalition of advocacy groups issued a statement commending the bill for both the tangible impact it would have and for raising the profile of the issue among the public and policy makers. As the coalition noted, now is when advocates must mobilize:
Legislation in the US alone will not end the conflict in eastern Congo, but this bill would provide a crucial step toward the creation of a practical and enforceable means to ensure that the trade in Congolese minerals contributes to peace rather than war. (…)
We encourage concerned members of the public to contact their representatives and demand that they actively support this legislation to help ensure that consumer electronics and other goods imported into the US are conflict free.
Certain electronics industry leaders also voiced support for the legislation. HP, for one, had a rep in the audience at today’s press conference passing out hard copies of this statement:
“HP commends Congressman Jim McDermott for introducing the Conflict Minerals Trade Act, which underscores the need to prevent the purchase of minerals from mines known to fund the ongoing armed conflict in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“As a long-recognized industry leader in social and environmental responsibility, HP expects HP suppliers to conduct their worldwide operations in a manner that does not result in labor or human rights violations such as the direct financing of armed conflict.” (Here’s the rest.)
A lobbyist for the industry spoke at the press conference, and his association, ITI, which represents many of industry leaders including Nokia, RIM, and Intel, put out this statement in support of the legislation. We hope to see many more electronics and other end-user companies publicly support the bill and work to lobby for its passage in the coming months.