Nearly five million people have been killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the past decade, in terrible waves of warfare between armed groups struggling for power and money.
In part, this violence is fueled by competition over the lucrative minerals trade. As consumers, we all are connected directly to this conflict through our cell phones, computers and cars. One thing each one of us can do immediately is to support efforts to curtail the use of minerals originating from mines controlled by armed groups, or “conflict minerals.”
Just as the world acted to stop the trade in conflict diamonds over a decade ago, we now have the ability to stop armed groups from supporting their wars through sale of minerals that are essential to our electronics and other consumer products. That is why we are pushing the Obama administration to enforce an important new law that would regulate the sale of these minerals and ensure they are not used to fund further conflict.
As part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Congress passed section 1502 requiring companies traded on U.S. stock markets to disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) whether their products contain minerals from Congo or adjacent countries. If so, these companies must explain the actions taken to trace the origin of the minerals and whether they come from mines or trading routes that help fund armed conflict.
Several companies have already begun to take steps to ensure their minerals supplies support stability and development, not conflict, in DRC. Many others, however, have chosen to wait until the SEC compelled them to do so. After lengthy delays, the SEC is poised to finally issue rules for implementation of section 1502 today, August 22.
Much more work will be needed now to ensure that the minerals trade becomes, as it should be, a force for equitable economic development in DRC, rather than a cash cow for armed militants. More importantly, substantial international pressure will be needed to hold armed groups in DRC accountable for crimes against humanity, to stop the weapons trade into the region, and to push the illegitimate Kabila government toward the necessary political reforms. That is why we see the SEC rule as the beginning, not the end, of important new campaign work to promote peace and stability in DRC.
In the coming weeks, we will be asking our supporters to join us, and to join our student network, STAND, in actions around the country to push companies to take further steps to avoid conflict minerals. We plan to work with communities around the country to promote state and local legislation to ensure that governments encourage the development and purchase of conflict-free products. And, we’ll be asking our activists to join us in actions to ensure that the United States and other governments do everything they can to hold both the DRC government and armed groups accountable for atrocities. Together, we can support an end to the violence.