MEPs from the Committee on International Trade have rejected a set of binding regulations for certain minerals extracted in conflict zones, in favour of a less ambitious system of self-certification, which would exclude some minerals entirely. EURACTIV France reports.
Europe is making gradual progress in its operations against the trade in minerals such as gold, tantalum (the material used to make mobile phones vibrate), tungsten and tin, whose revenues are used to finance armed conflicts.
Members of the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee adopted the conflict minerals regulation by 22 votes to 16, with two abstentions, but rejected a proposal to impose binding transparency standards on the whole supply chain for these minerals.
Greens MEP Ska Keller expressed her disappointment at the outcome on Twitter.
— Ska Keller (@SkaKeller) April 14, 2015
In refusing to toughen the European Commission’s initial proposal, the MEPs chose to conserve a large part of the system based on business self-certification and responsible labelling of supply shains.
The EU’s smelters and refiners are the only industries that will be forced to use responsibly sourced minerals and display an approved European importer on the label. This regulation, supported by the political right, is vehemently opposed by the left and the Greens, who had hoped for a system with binding standards at all stages in the supply chain.
“The friction between the compulsory and voluntary approaches is not the real problem. The real challenge is to come up with an effective and viable regulation,” the Romanian Christian-democrat MEP and committee vice-president Iuliu Winkler said.
“European smelters and refiners only account for 5% of the global market,” said MEP and of the International Trade Committee Vice-President Yannick Jadot (Greens). “In other words, the only way to apply the same rules to the sector outside the EU, which is mainly based in Asia, is to enforce due diligence standards at every link of the supply chain,” he added.
The long-awaited Commission proposal, presented in March 2014, aimed to implement a system for the responsible procurement of minerals from regions beset by conflicts in general, and from the Great Lakes region of the DRC in particular, an area especially hard hit by the phenomenon.
The self-certification and labelling system also attracted harsh criticism from NGOs, who feel it lacks the teeth to hold the mineral extraction sector to account.
A binding system has already been in place in the United States since 2010. Under the Dodd-Frank act, American companies are obliged to provide detailed certifications for their materials. Supporters of this law hail it as a success, while others accuse it of simply rerouting the trade in conflict minerals through countries bordering the conflict zones targeted by the legislation, and of creating an unofficial American embargo on the entire Congolese mining industry, damaging small companies.
Other criticisms of the EU’s proposal hinged on its narrow scope. While the European Union already takes part in the Kimberly Process diamond certification system, the proposed new regulations all but ignore many other conflict minerals, like emeralds from Colombia or copper, and jade and rubies from Burma.
“The scope of this text is very limited. It concerns too few companies and resources. We recommend including copper and the precious stones that are causing problems in Burma, for example,” the Secretary General of the Episcopal Commission for the Natural Resources of the Congo Henri Muyiha said.
The proposed regulation will now be put before the European Parliament’s plenary in May, where MEPs will have the chance to table amendments.