Scroll to top

Facts and Opportunities on Conflict Minerals and Livelihoods

No comments

Facts and Opportunities on Conflict Minerals and Livelihoods

Posted by Sasha Lezhnev on August 12, 2011

Facts and Opportunities on Conflict Minerals and Livelihoods

The notion that minerals stopped fueling war in eastern Congo does not square with the facts on the ground, and a broad consensus has agreed on this conclusion—from regional heads of state, to many local civil society groups, to the United Nations Groups of Experts, to the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, to investors, to electronics companies. The U.N. Experts report in December 2010 highlighted that an entire sector of the army “was created for the explicit purpose of benefiting from the mineral trade. Its deployment follows the outlines of one of the Province’s main cassiterite and gold zones." The updated June 2011 report reveals that criminal networks within the Congolese army continue to occupy mines, as well as the multitude of rebel factions that continue to profit from mining, albeit less so since the legislation and the Congolese mining ban last September. For example, Mai-Mai Generals Janvier and Cheka have been fighting in recent weeks over a recently discovered tin mountain in Mutongo, which has displaced 7,000 people, as a joint U.N.-civil society mission last week confirmed. 

Mining communities should be assisted in several ways now. This should have started before the legislation passed, as we called for in 2009, a full year before the bill passed. Companies and donors are finally starting now, two years later, but their work needs to go further.  A livelihood initiative should include economic diversification through support for agriculture, small business, and access to markets.  As a Congolese miner told us, “We know that minerals are not going to last forever. I would certainly do farming and give up the minerals trade. I could farm quinquina, which is the most profitable, or coffee or beans. I did farming during the mining ban, but I need more tools for this." Such programs have proven to work in other contexts, including South Africa, Indonesia, and elsewhere. USAID will be starting a project in the Kivus along these lines; three major electronics companies are interested in supporting further livelihoods projects; but this must go further.

Another support measure to aid mining communities is responsible investment, which should be done in a transparent manner and with independent monitoring and community support. We lobbied the electronics industry to amend their policies to allow companies to source from Congo using the consensus OECD due diligence guidelines in April 2011, which they did.  Following this, Motorola Solutions started its traceable supply chain program to source minerals from Congo. This program still needs to have independent monitoring, but it's a step in the right direction.

Tracing, monitoring, and community development also needs to occur at mines, and the planned Public-Private Alliance between the Obama administration and electronics companies is due to launch in September and support projects to accomplish those goals.  As a miner in North Kivu told me earlier this year, “A system to monitor the trade is the best thing that could happen to us. It would allow us to make the most out of our own business.”

As those programs get going, we support companies to source traceable minerals from Congo and the region using the OECD due diligence guidelines and to be transparent about their purchases and audit reports. On the other hand, if companies continue the status quo by investing without traceability and transparency and continue to turn a blind eye to where their minerals come from, then that behavior will only lead Congo backwards. A minerals exporter told us earlier this year, “If someone brings me 10 tons of minerals, how do I know they don’t come from armed groups? Even the FDLR has SAESSCAM documents.” That answer is not good enough today: buyers have to go back in their supply chain and verify where the minerals come from, which may mean using a tracing scheme and having the tracing audited by independent third parties. It may also mean taking control of a mine: as a mining cooperative leader told me in March, “Selling [of minerals] will now take place closer to the mines. We will cut out the middlemen."

The international community and end-user companies must go further and faster to support such responsible investment, an independent monitoring system, a process to close current loopholes and lead to a unified certification scheme, and to ensure that the Congolese and regional governments stick by their words to combat the current mafia-like system.

Photo: Tin ore (Enough Project/ Sasha Lezhnev)