EU readies voluntary conflict minerals scheme


The EU's trade chief will present a voluntary scheme in March aimed at stemming the import of minerals from conflict zones and prevent their use to finance war and strife, EU officials said on Wednesday (5 February).

Karel De Gucht's proposal to the European Commission, the EU executive, will encompass gold, tungsten, tantalum and tin, in a bid to pressure importers to classify them as coming from areas free of conflict, Reuters reported.

"Work is currently underway to prepare a proposal … for a comprehensive EU framework on responsible mineral sourcing in line with international guidelines," said EU Trade spokesman John Clancy.

The conflict mineral zone includes the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighbouring countries including Angola and South Sudan, according to a US definition. These states make up 17% of the global production of tantalum, 4% of the global production of tin, 3% of tungsten and 2% of gold.

Tantalum is used in electronics, while tungsten is used in light bulb filaments.

Like US conflict minerals legislation, the EU’s proposal was initially devised to only include the Republic Democratic of Congo, but is now likely to be extended to a range of conflict regions from Myanmar to Afghanistan, according to officials.

The scheme will not cover diamonds and the proposal will still need to be approved by MEP’s and governments.

The EU is already part of the 50-member Kimberley Process, a government, industry and civil society initiative set up in 2002 to control the use of rough diamonds that fund rebel movements and human rights abuses.

It now wants to introduce a similar scheme for other minerals and make its disclosure rules binding for importers, although there is still internal debate on the issue, EU officials said.

The latest draft of De Gucht's proposal envisages only a voluntary scheme, according to officials familiar with the document.

Under the draft plan, shipments of minerals could be accompanied by a certificate to guarantee that they are conflict-free. Criteria to define a conflict-free mineral will be defined in detail and will have to be respected by the companies using the conflict-free label for their products.

The list of minerals affected by the procedure is also subject to negotiations and may become longer, or remain open for future additions.

Conflict minerals are minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses, mostly in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The looting of the Congo's natural resources is not limited to domestic actors; during the Congo Wars, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi particularly profited from the Congo's resources.

The most commonly mined minerals are cassiterite, wolframite, coltan and gold, which are extracted from the Eastern Congo, and passed through a variety of intermediaries before being purchased by multinational electronics companies.

Since 2003, the European Commission has been a high profile donor to Congo, particularly in the country’s unstable east. The EU’s Country Strategy Paper for the 2008-2013 period, under the 10th European Development Fund, pledges some €583 million of European funds to the country from DG Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).   

This is supplemented by funds from the EU general budget under the Development Cooperation Instrument, and funds for other bodies such as the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, the Instrument for Stability, Eufor RD Congo, Eupol RDC, and Eusec RDC.

  • March 2014: Commission to present new proposal and communication on conflict minerals

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