Thursday

29th Feb 2024

EU drags its heels over conflict minerals

  • Wolframite. Children are frequently forced to work in the illegal mines of eastern DRC (Photo: Julien Harneis)

The European Commission appears reluctant to put in place rules that would force European companies to declare whether they source their raw materials from conflict areas such as eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Washington on the the other hand is pressing ahead with the idea, although an April deadline now appears to have been pushed back to the autumn.

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EU development commissioner Andris Piebalgs told members of the European parliament's development committee on Wednesday (13 April) that the commission was concentrating instead on country-by-country financial reporting (CBCR).

Also contained in the US Dodd-Frank Act, the anti-corruption measure will oblige extractive sector companies to publish a list of how much they pay governments for access to their oil, gas and minerals, making it easier to spot cases of political theft.

A commission communication on this is expected before the summer break, followed by a review of the EU transparency directive this autumn.

While they welcome this initiative, some MEPs argue the EU must do more to prevent the flow of conflict minerals ending up on European factory production lines.

"Large companies such Nokia and Shell are preparing for the US Dodd-frank Act, so now is the time for Europe to act," Green MEP Judith Sargentini told EUobserver in an interview.

"It's kind of shameful that we just let the US run ahead of us like this. It shows up Europe's position in the world."

Under the system supported by Sargentini and others, minerals imported into Europe would have a paper record detailing their country and mine of origin, helping to reduce the amount of illegally-mined coltan and wolframite which ends up in European electrical goods, for example.

Human rights groups say revenues from illegal mining are helping to fund rebel groups in eastern DRC and neighbouring states, fueling a conflict which has resulted in a litany of murder, rape, and forced labour and an estimated two million displaced people.

Industry experts say it may be difficult however to identify exactly where particular minerals originate from, although the imminent US requirements are expected to produce a surge in small consultancies offering to carry out this due diligence for major corporations, keen to project a clean image.

"It could be very difficult to implement for our clients," Thierry Salmona of Imergys, a French multinational which operates 116 mining sites, told this website. "You would need to write a book to describe where some raw materials come from."

The commission appears to have taken this message on board, concerned that such measures would create an additional burden for European companies, already struggling to compete against their Chinese counterparts.

"It's certainly one factor that needs to be taken into account," said an official from the commission's industry department on condition of anonymity.

Congo fatigue: EU funding in the heart of Africa

The Democratic Republic of Congo was last year the largest recipient of EU support among ACP states. But critics say this approach has failed, drawing a question mark over the EU's next step.

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Member states failed on Wednesday to agree to the EU's long-awaited Corporate Sustainable Due Diligence Directive, after 13 EU ambassadors declared abstention and one, Sweden, expressed opposition (there was no formal vote), EUobserver has learned.

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