Tuesday

13th Apr 2021

MEPs divided on conflict minerals scheme

  • MEPs are divided over whether all companies should make sure their products do not include conflict minerals (Photo: Julien Harneis)

EU lawmakers have clashed over which businesses should be covered by new rules on the trade of conflict minerals used to fund civil wars.

In a vote on Tuesday (14 April), the parliament's trade committee beefed up a proposal by the European Commission tabled last March last year, allowing the over 400 European firms that import minerals to register for EU certification to demonstrate that their goods did not use conflict minerals. It also covers the import of metals including tin, tungsten, talanium and gold coming from war-torn countries

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Tungsten, tin and tantalum are all key components in mobile phones, laptops and other consumer electronics.

The plan backed by MEPs would require all EU-based smelters and refiners to be EU-certified as “responsible importers”, alongside voluntary schemes for other importers.

“The goal of this legislation is to break the link between mining and trade in minerals and metals and the financing of illegal armed groups,” said Iuliu Winkler, the Romanian centre-right MEP piloting the bill through the EU assembly.

But the trade committee’s position, which was adopted by a 22 to 16 margin, did not go far enough for the parliament’s left-wing and Green groups who want a mandatory certification scheme to apply to all companies and to extend the scope of the bill to include other metals and minerals.

Development and humanitarian NGOs have also been urging deputies to toughen up the bill which, as it stands, would still be weaker than equivalent laws in the United States. The US Dodd-Frank bill reforming the financial sector, adopted in 2010, requires manufacturers to audit their supply chains and report and make public any instances of conflict minerals being used.

The US legislation classifies the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), one of the world’s most resource rich nations, and its nine neighbouring countries as the main sources of conflict minerals and metals. Fighting between militia in the DRC’s eastern provinces has continued unabated for more than fifteen years, in large part funded by conflict minerals.

However, the Commission has emphasised that the new law will not just apply to sub-Saharan Africa, pointing out that minerals and metals have been used to fund violence in countries such as Colombia, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

"A fully mandatory scheme is absolutely vital to stop the European Union being complicit in the devastation caused by the trade in conflict minerals,” said David Martin, the Socialist group’s spokesperson on the committee.

"We have had voluntary guidelines in place for five years and over 80 percent of companies have chosen not to publish any information on their supply chain due diligence,” he added, describing the committee proposal as “weak and unenforceable”.

Meanwhile, the UN and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have also drawn up international due diligence standards for firms.

The revised proposal will now be put to a vote at the parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg in May.

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