Europe and conflict minerals. All the talk about responsible business does not mean that the EU agrees about a new law that will hopefully tackle the conflict mineral trade…
The trade of minerals has long been connected to conflict and human rights abuses. EU is a primary destination for such minerals. They are brought to companies in Europe in their raw form as well as in parts of other products like electronics, engines, and jewellery.
There have been months of negotiations in order to reach an agreement on this new law that will possibly assure that minerals coming into EU have been sourced fairly and that those minerals are not funding abuses.
After months of negotiations, EU institutions have reached an agreement on a law designed to make sure that minerals entering the EU have been sourced responsibly and without funding conflict and human rights abuses. This is a first step in the policy demands that big business trading stays within the law.
“Today’s decision leaves companies that import minerals in their products entirely off the hook. It’s a half-hearted attempt to tackle the trade in conflict minerals which will only hold companies importing the raw materials to basic checks,” said Iverna McGowan, Head of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “The EU has international obligations to protect human rights but went only half way to meet them. EU investors and consumers still won’t have any certainty that the companies they deal with are behaving responsibly.This law will change little – too little.”
Companies can’t be left to do the responsible things on their own without legal requirements.
By agreeing to exempt these corporations from the law, the EU has instead put its faith in the hope that companies will choose to source minerals responsibly without being required to do so.
Michael Gibb of Global Witness, explains, “While we recognise the efforts of those, especially within Parliament, who have fought for a Europe in which ‘business as usual’ means responsible business, we are disappointed the EU has not matched its words with action. With EU laws now falling behind those in other countries, the EU is rapidly becoming the weak link in the mineral supply chain. While this is an important step, the EU should have gone much further to make full use of a unique opportunity to make a real difference.”
The agreement promises a review of the law’s effectiveness for a few years after application.
“This law can only be a first step. It must be implemented swiftly so that it can soon be extended to companies that import these minerals as part of manufactured goods,” said Maria van der Heide from ActionAid. “Communities in conflict-affected and high risk areas will only be able to benefit from their resource wealth and be freed from the cycle of violence related to the trade in conflict minerals if companies along the entire supply chain follow responsible sourcing practices.”
Communities that continue to bear the cost of irresponsible trading, as well as civil society organisations across the world, will now be looking to Europe’s governments to prove that the law delivers on their promise to ensure that European businesses source responsibly. Only then will Europe and its companies be part of global progress towards making mineral supply chains more transparent, responsible, and sustainable.
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