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Will the EU Get Serious about Conflict Minerals?

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Will the EU Get Serious about Conflict Minerals?

Posted by Aaron Hall on June 1, 2011

Will the EU Get Serious about Conflict Minerals?

The European Union, or E.U., is finally starting to address the link between human rights violations and the conflict mineral trade in the Congo.  While a handful of policymakers within the E.U. have voiced concern over the issue in the past year, meaningful action has yet to take place following on the efforts of the U.S. government and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD. However, in late May, the Netherlands-based Center for Research on Multinational Corporations, or SOMO, and Judith Sargentini, member of the European Parliament (Netherlands) for the Greens/European Free Alliance, held a series of events focusing on the creation of E.U. legislation on conflict minerals from the Congo.

The aim of the meetings was to bring together experts and stakeholders from the European Parliament, the European Commission, civil society and business, as well as a number of representatives from Congolese civil society to share input on possible new E.U. regulations. The meetings included a presentation on some of the lessons learned from the passage of the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals provision in the U.S., as well as the perspectives of Congolese civil society on the effects of international efforts to curb the trade in conflict minerals, and the way forward within the E.U. Sargentini is emerging as one of the most vocal proponents of action on the issue of conflict minerals and the conflict in Congo within the European Parliament. She has filed a motion for resolution, together with 32 other parliamentarians from six different groups, that calls on the European Commission to develop a legal initiative similar to the Dodd-Frank Act in the U.S.

While this is a positive development, the E.U. Parliament and Commission still have a long way to go. There is little understanding of who amongst the various policymakers will lead the movement to pass legislation, and what exactly that legislation will focus on.  Additionally, any new legislation would require input from at least four separate offices of the Commission, and each continues to point to the other when asked who will take the lead.

The E.U. must also address the significant need for a robust supportive package that includes funding for capacity building and development initiatives underway on the ground in Congo including infrastructural development, economic diversification, police and justice reform, and mineral traceability. These initiatives are critical to the long-term success of an international certification scheme that is a necessary component for peace and development in the region.

The nascent process to pass conflict minerals legislation in the Parliament provides two excellent opportunities for E.U. states. First, it is a chance to expand industry accountability outside the U.S. to essential European stock exchanges, and second, to add valuable diplomatic and financial resources to certification, development, and rule of law reform on the ground in eastern Congo.  The Commission should grasp the opportunity that exists as major companies as well as regional governments prepare to comply with U.S. legislation to create meaningful and harmonized legislation that includes support for supply chain accountability and international certification.

The Lisbon Treaty, responsible for the formation of the E.U., was founded on the core principals of the promotion of peace and human rights. The E.U. Parliament and Commission as the representative bodies of one of the world’s largest markets for the consumption of electronic and other devices using minerals from Congo has a responsibility to catch up with the international community on the issue.  The window for creating meaningful legislative support is closing and the time for a leader to emerge in Europe is now. 

Photo: European Union flag