Parliament adopts relaxed measures on conflict minerals

Miners in the Congo. [Julien Harneis/Flickr]

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.

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.

>> Read: EU conflict minerals law hangs in the balance

“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.

>> Read: EU vows to tackle ‘blood minerals’ in raw materials plan

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.

Narrow scope

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.

Maria Arena, the S&D Group spokesperson, said “I hope that in this upcoming plenary session those MEPs that were crying for the victims of conflict minerals during the speech of Dr. Mukwege (Sakharov Prize winner 2014), who publically stated his support for the mandatory approach advocated by the Socialists, will demonstrate the same humanity when it comes to their voting”.

Marielle de Sarnez, the ALDE Group’s spokesperson said “It is our responsibility to give Europe effective means to really fight the exploitation of minerals that feed armed conflicts”.

Yannick Jadot, a Green Party MEP and vice-president of the International Trade Committee, said “This vote is disastrous for the European Union because there is no guarantee that commercial products, whose manufacturing depends on these minerals, are not linked to a certain number of conflicts”.

The NGO Global Witness issued a statement, saying “Today the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade (INTA) wasted a ground-breaking opportunity to tackle the deadly trade in conflict minerals. […] Under this proposal, responsible sourcing by importers of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold would be entirely optional. The Commission’s proposed voluntary self-certification scheme would be open to approximately 300-400 companies—just 0.05% of companies using and trading these minerals in the EU, and would have virtually no impact on companies’ sourcing behaviour”.

“The law must be strengthened to make responsible sourcing a legal requirement for all companies that place these minerals on the European market–in any form. This would put the European Union at the forefront of global efforts to create more transparent, responsible and sustainable business practices. It would also better align Europe with existing international standards on responsible sourcing, and complement mandatory requirements in the US and in twelve African countries”.

Emma McClarkin, an MEP from the ECR Group, said “The thought that the goods we purchase could inadvertently fund bloody conflicts in parts of Africa will fill most people with dread. The system we have agreed gives customers the power to check that companies are carrying out suitable checks before they buy their products”.

“We need clear and workable legislation that will give people the information they need when choosing where they buy their goods, so that they know where the minerals contained within have come from”.

Iuliu Winkler from the EPP Group said "It is a very important consensus that we have reached today between the EPP, ECR and ALDE Groups in order to adopt an efficient and workable Regulation capable of focusing on two priorities: empowering local communities in the conflict-affected areas, and increasing the responsible behaviour of all the stakeholders involved in trade."

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 (DRC). 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.

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