EU must give assurances on the morality of trade in natural resources

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Conflict minerals. [Shutterstock]

We ask European Parliamentarians and European governments to meet the expectations of EU consumers who want assurances that the resources in their mobile phones, computers or cars are not linked to human right violations and conflicts, writes Mgr François-Xavier Maroy Rusengo.

Mgr François-Xavier Maroy Rusengo is Archbishop of Bukavu and President of the Provincial Assembly of Bishops of Bukavu and Kindu, known for his commitment to the most vulnerable people in this region of eastern Democratic Republic Congo (DRC). He was one of the initiators of the Episcopal Commission for Natural Resources (CERN in French). This organization denounces and attempts to put an end to the illegal extraction of minerals in the region, as it finances many armed groups active in the region.

As an African archbishop working with mining communities in Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I look forward with great interest to the forthcoming European Parliament debate on the strategy for responsible trade in minerals from conflict zones.

Resources from the Global South extracted by Europeans were used to fuel the biggest wars and conflicts of all time. Later, those resources then helped build your peace and prosperity. I challenge you to be a consistent actor for peace also beyond Europe, taking your part of responsibility so that resources in Africa, Asia and Latin America no longer fuel conflict on our continents, but rather contribute to our own prosperity. When it comes to European companies trading in our resources, we hope that the draft “conflict minerals” regulation the European Parliament will now turn to examining will be at least as strict as our own supply chain due diligence legislation.

In many Southern countries, the control, extraction, processing and trade of resources like minerals, wood, gas and oil are financing armed groups, security and military forces who commit serious violations of human rights. And yet these resources urgently need to contribute to human development. There is a striking contradiction between the poor human conditions of the population in the mining districts in my country, and the mineral riches beneath the ground. The wealth of natural resources in the region has not always brought benefits for the common good – the trade in natural resources has benefited our people. However, it has wronged people socially, and worse, it has taken lives.

As a man of faith, I am certain that European citizens want to take moral responsibility for their choices. To make this possible is a shared responsibility of all: businesses, governments, civil society and citizens. The European Commission has taken a good step by publishing a legislative proposal that aims to prevent European companies’ mineral purchases from financing conflict or human rights abuses. Nevertheless, substantial improvements need to be made.

Together with 70 fellow bishops from four continents, I have signed a Church Leaders’ statement, supported by the international alliance of Catholic development agencies CIDSE, highlighting aspects to be strengthened if the regulation is to bring tangible change to suffering communities.

We ask European Parliamentarians and European governments to meet the expectations of EU consumers, who want assurances that the resources in their mobile phones, computers or cars are not linked to human right violations and conflicts. European citizens need to see clearly the whole picture, which means a shared responsibility by companies from mine to end-product. Including end-user companies in the regulation’s scope will allow citizens to bring positive influence to bear in setting the conditions for morality in natural resource supply chains. Their expressions of solidarity and empathy with people in situations of desperate violence will not be betrayed.

As Church leaders, we also draw attention to the need to be consistent in the natural resources covered. For our sisters and brothers in local communities who suffer from human rights abuses and violence, it does not matter if companies mine for tin or gold, which would be covered by the current proposal, or copper and gems in countries like Peru or Myanmar, which would not. The signatures of bishops across 26 countries are a strong cry for a responsible sourcing regulation that applies across a fuller range of natural resources. 

Finally, it is hard to understand that the proposed legislation would not be binding, when within the framework of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region my country and our neighbouring countries already have binding due diligence legislation. We should make use of what we know works, following best practices of the OECD guidance on undertaking and publicly reporting on efforts to source responsibly. As I and many of my fellow bishops are first-hand witnesses to the powerful dynamics in regions affected by conflict, having engaged in dialogue with all involved, we can assure that nothing less than a mandatory system will be able to the change the behaviour of companies and other actors.

We ask you to join us in solidarity with our call for ambitious, binding rules to promote due diligence by companies throughout supply chains, concerning natural resources sourced from high-risk or conflict-affected areas all over the world.