Note: This post was written by Amanda R. Ulrich, Activist Leader, Enough Project.
On June 7, 2019, Governor Kate Brown signed S.B. 471, making Oregon the third state in the country to pass such a policy with regard to the State’s purchase of electronic products which may contain conflict minerals. On May 30, 2019, the Oregon Legislature passed a conflict mineral procurement policy, and each step of the way, from when the Bill was first introduced in committee, to when it finally made its way to the House Floor, S.B. 471 passed unanimously.
Chief co-sponsors of the bill were Senator Brian Boquist, Senator Michael Dembrow and Representative Susan McClain. Regular sponsors were Senators Burdick, Frederick, Monnes, Anderson, Riley, Taylor, Thomsen and Wagner, along with Representatives Boles, Bonham, Drazan, Evans, Fahey, Helm, Keny-Guyer, Leif, Piluso, Power and Williamson.
“I’m very happy to bring this bill before you. This is one of those interesting stories of the grassroots bringing a bill to us, and we working it to what we hope will be fruition.”
Since most cities in Oregon use purchasing contracts that go through the state, the passage of S.B. 471 means that the State of Oregon has significantly strengthened and amplified its contracting purchases to support businesses that comply with international guidelines in reference to how conflict minerals are sourced.In fact, the infrastructure available to businesses to comply with international guidelines are robust and easy to access. This is a tremendous opportunity for Oregon to remain at the forefront of responsible commerce and business practices.
The journey of S.B. 471 started in 2012 when local activists Amanda R. Ulrich (Activist Leader, Enough Project) and Robert Hadley (founding member of Oregon Coalition for Humanity) approached the City of Portland to pursue passage of a conflict mineral resolution, which, three years later, was unanimously passed in 2015 by City Council (Res 37150). The goal was always to pursue a state-wide resolution after first passing, and implementing at least one city resolution in the State.
“It is such a good feeling to know that there are ways you can help impact change half a world away. It is a good feeling when you see local governments being ethically mindful, and in a sustainable, responsible way.”
In 2016 Ulrich and Hadley joined forces with Lauren Fortgang (Director of the Never Again Coalition), Marty Fromer (Oregon Area Coordinator, Amnesty Int’l USA), Eugene Sadiki (leader of the Congolese community in Portland, Oregon) Kathy Cordell (member Never Again Coalition), and Lauren Rook (PSU Grad Student and Never Again Coalition intern), to approach Oregon legislators to introduce a conflict mineral free bill in the 2017 Legislative session addressing State of Oregon procurement policy. A bill was introduced in the 2017 session, but ultimately did not receive a committee hearing.
“Money gained from the sales of conflict minerals can be used to fund violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, creating a vicious cycle of oppression fueled by the demand for electronics. This begs the question: what can we do? While there has been work to educate consumers and provide them with information if their product contains conflict-free minerals, I think the state of Oregon can do its part too.”
Meanwhile, on August 22, 2018 Portland City Council unanimously passed a new Sustainable Procurement Policy, which both incorporated and strengthened Resolution 37150. Furthermore, the City agreed to support efforts towards a state-wide conflict mineral procurement policy.
The group did not lose hope however, and spent 2018 meeting with legislators in Salem to garner support for a bill in the 2019 session. The 2018 meetings with legislators in Salem were fruitful with several state legislators interested in supporting the proposed legislation. A bipartisan alliance was formed between Senators Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) and Brian Boquist (R-Dallas) becoming the chief sponsors, along with Representative Susan McLain (D-Hillsboro). Both senators had personal motivation for working on legislation to help alleviate violence in eastern Congo. Senator Dembrow was a co-founder of Cascade Festival of African Films, the longest running African film festival in the United States. Senator Boquist served thirty-four years of military service as a Special Forces Officer in various countries, including the Congo.
“The issues of conflict minerals has been close to my heart since long before I came to the Legislature. They have created enormous suffering for African women, men, and children. I’m very pleased that we were able to pass Senate Bill 471 to help ELIMINATE the use of conflict minerals. I can’t thank the grassroots organizers enough for their work on this bill and my colleague Senator Brian Boquist for his passionate work as well.”
Leading up to the Senate vote, Washington, DC based non-profit Enough Project worked with the Oregon groups on draft language for the bill. Further, several local groups, businesses and activists submitted letters of support and both written and spoken testimony including the bill’s requestor, the Never Again Coalition, Amnesty International, and Oregon Coalition for Humanity, to list a few.
“Oregon’s recent action to consider how the electronics and other companies they buy from source their minerals helps further the progress that has been achieved to ensure minerals sourced from Congo are not supporting armed groups and fueling conflict. The actions on college campuses and by cities and states to enact changes in their procurement processes has helped push many companies, particularly in the technology sector, to improve their due diligence on minerals. The state and advocates that pressed for this change should be commended.”
Of particular importance was the written and spoken testimony of Eugene Sadiki. Eugene is from eastern Congo, and has witnessed first hand the violence in his country caused by infighting over who controls the mineral wealth. His testimony was pivotal in terms of offering a personal perspective on not only conflict minerals, but how policy can impact lives on the ground. We are proud to have him working with us on this important issue.
“People in DRC are being raped, killed, tortured, mutilated everyday. Especially in the villages where minerals are extracted. I thank the Oregon Legislature for their willingness to stand as pioneers, looking to take action in fighting for transparency in supply chains in regard to conflict minerals in the world.”
In the months leading up to the May 31st House vote, as the Executive Director of the Never Again Coalition, Lauren Fortgang, worked tirelessly as a liaison for area stakeholder groups and worked directly with the bills chief co-sponsors to offer feedback on the bill and to address concerns and questions from a multitude of municipalities and city governments which will be impacted by the passage of the bill.
“Companies have the opportunity to contribute to peace in the Congo by making sure that the minerals they use in their products do not come from mines controlled by armed groups. But they won’t take action unless consumers, including states, demand it. I believe passage of this bill will put Oregon at the forefront of responsible commerce and business practices.”
We are proud that Oregon is leading the way by implementing practical state and city legislation in regard to conflict mineral procurement. S.B. 471 in particular progresses state legislation with regard to conflict minerals. These policies have impact when implemented in a practical way, and it is our hope that Oregon will serve as an example that other states (and cities) can follow when implementing their own conflict mineral procurement policies.
By way of background, conflict minerals are minerals mined for the profit of militias and army units who use violence upon civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. These minerals are in turn sold to smelters and refiners who refine the minerals for electronics, jewelry, and other products used by consumers and industries in the US and around the world. These minerals are: Tin, Tungsten, Tantalum and Gold (the 3Ts and Gold), and eastern Congo has some of the world’s largest repositories of these minerals. Studies show that policies such as those outlined in S.B. 471, work and have direct positive impact upon the ground in eastern Congo. As of December 2017, 79% of the 3T mines in Eastern Congo were conflict free, and as of June 2018, over 75% of the world’s smelters and refiners had passed conflict-free audits (253 out of 324). Policies have impact.
(International Peace Information Service (IPIS) & Progress and Responsible Minerals Initiative, “Responsible Minerals Assurance Process Indicators,” available at http://www.responsiblemineralsinitiative.org/responsible-minerals-assurance-process/active-and-conformant-smelter-count/?%20%20.