Enough was pleased to organize a top-notch panel this week to discuss the issue of Congo’s conflict minerals. The Congolese Ambassador to the United States Faida Mitifu joined the top State Department official engaged on the issue, Under Secretary for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs Robert Hormats, and Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) for a conversation with Enough’s John Prendergast and David Sullivan about efforts on the part of the two governments to end the trade in conflict minerals, one of a number of issues driving Congo’s long war in the east.
Here are some photos from the event:
Congressman McDermott has championed the conflict minerals issue on Capitol Hill, authoring the Congo Minerals Trade Act (H.R. 4128) that helped form the basis of the conflict minerals language — soon up for a vote in the financial reform bill. It’s “not too much to ask” that companies track whether the minerals in their products come from conflict mines, the congressman said.
Under Secretary Hormats called conflict minerals “one of the great moral issues of our times” in his comprehensive remarks. He spoke of his recent effort to convince the G-8 to urge the Congolese government to improve governance and accountability in the region, highlighted the personal dedication of Secretary Hillary Clinton, and noted the direct responsibility of the private sector.
Without naming names, Hormats commended some companies for taking the initiative to clean up their supply chains. But, he noted, “[N]ot all actors in this trade have clean hands.”
“[W]e are looking at companies and individuals suspect of supporting or contributing to illegal armed groups through the illicit trade of natural resources,” Hormats said. “Under U.N. Resolution 1857, all Member States, the United States included, must impose sanctions on those who fall in this category. We will not shrink from this responsibility.” He said that one U.S. company has already been “warned.”
This discussion of sanctions is a key component in the effort to stem the trade in conflict minerals and one that, because of its sensitive nature, is sometimes passed over in official remarks. Seeing it frankly addressed by Under Secretary Hormats was an encouraging sign.
Ambassador Faida Mitifu rightly raised the point that the issue of conflict minerals is not new and was first addressed by a local organization in eastern Congo, whose report spurred attention from the United Nation in 1999. Even apart from the dramatic human toll of the conflict, the Congolese government must work to make the minerals trade transparent because it is currently losing significant revenue, she said.
The event, featuring two ambassadors and a congressman, provided a rare glimpse into all of the diplomatic and policy work taking place behind the scenes. Separately, the confluence of an op-ed in the Sunday New York Times, a celebrity-made video, and a piece by actress Brooke Smith and John Prendergast on the front page of the Huffington Post prompted consumer awareness – and as a result, industry awareness at the highest levels – to take off this week. It’s a pretty dynamite combination that is making headway to ensure that the social justice issue of conflict minerals won’t go away – until the problem is tackled.