Canada and Conflict Minerals in the African Great Lakes Region
When Parliament reconvenes on September 15th, one of the key issues under discussion will be Bill 486, commonly known as the Conflict Minerals Act. The Act seeks to regulate the activities of Canadian businesses in the African Great Lakes Region in general, and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in particular. The sponsors of Bill 486 wish to eradicate conflict minerals from the supply chains of Canadian companies in order to reduce conflict in the region and deny militia groups, rebels, and corrupt members of the DRC government access to lucrative revenue streams. Monies from conflict minerals often flow into the pockets of criminal individuals, both within and outside of government, thereby damaging not only the welfare of miners and citizens, but also undermining the rule of law and judicial process in the DRC.
The role played by powerful generals in the DRC army such as Gen. Amisi Kumba highlight the need for comprehensive oversight in the DRC's extractive sectors. General Amisi has been implicated in numerous war crimes, such as mass rape, pillage, and the execution of over 160 mutineers. Amisi also oversees a network which distributes hunting ammunition to poachers and armed groups. General Amisi funds his network of cronyism and patronage via his involvement in the DRC's mining sector. According to mineral traders and mining authorities, Amisi is actively involved with the Bisie tin mine in Walikale, in North Kivu, and has appointed officers to oversee his interests in the Irumu, Aru, Mambasa, and Mongbwala mines.
Furthermore, Amisi has inserted himself into the ongoing conflict over the rights to the Omate gold mine, favouring certain parties to the dispute in return for a percentage of the mine's production. Despite this litany of abuses and corrupt dealings which has seen Amisi suspended from his post of commander of Congolese land forces in 2012, on July 31st General Amisi was cleared of all charges by Congolese authorities.i
The outcome of General Amisi's investigation is symptomatic of the intersection between conflict minerals, war crimes, corruption and rights violations, all exacerbated by weak enforcement both domestically in the DRC and internationally among major trading nations. Cynicism over the conflict has led to various members of Parliament and the general public questioning the efficacy of anti-conflict mineral legislation, questioning whether any meaningful impact can be achieved by domestic legislation in developed nations located on the other side of the planet.
Contrary to such concerns, over last four years there has been a marked improvement in the conflict minerals situation in the DRC, due mainly to the impact of conflict-mineral legislation instituted by the United States.
In 2010 the Frank-Dodd Act was implemented by the United States in order to hold companies accountable for the composition of their supply chains. Specifically, Frank-Dodd mandated that all companies which utilized elements designated as conflict minerals, and who sourced from known conflict zones, undergo an audit of their supply chains, the results of which would be made public. According to Global Witness campaigner Sophia Pickles, “The U.S. conflict minerals law has catalysed reforms in DR Congo's mining sector and has compelled U.S-listed firms to examine their sourcing practices for the first time, in a bid to ensure they are behaving responsibly and not funding war.”ii
Eager to avoid public backlash and influenced by the notion of corporate responsibility, U.S. listed electronics companies have made significant efforts to eliminate conflict-minerals from their supply-chains. Apple recently announced that it has confirmed that its tantalum supply chain is now conflict-free. Similarly, Intel is currently producing the world's first entirely clean product which uses Congolese minerals.iii
Due to such legislation, former conflict mineral profiteers have lost control over Congolese mines with over two thirds of mines falling out of militia and warlord hands over the last four years. This state of affairs has come about due to the fact that for the first time in Congolese history, there exists a validation and oversight process for mines, with a recent survey showing 112 of 155 mines to be conflict-free.iv Despite the fate of General Amisi, other former benefactors of conflict minerals such as Bosco Ntaganda are currently facing trial at the International Criminal Court. Bosco, known as 'The Terminator' once controlled many mines in eastern DRC providing him with funds to support the cycle of violence in the region. Bosco's political trajectory is indicative of the convoluted nature of the conflict in the Congo, as well as the often nebulous distinctions between state generals and warlords.
Initially a warlord, Bosco later became a general in the Congolese army, serving from 2009 to 2012, before rebelling against the central government and helping fund notorious rebel group M23. M23 infighting, lack of local support and importantly the decrease in conflict mineral revenues eventually led to Bosco's downfall. In 2013 he voluntarily surrendered himself to the U.S. embassy in Kigali, Rwanda. He currently faces trial in The Hague on eighteen counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.v
Despite such progress, it is important to note that while militia/warlord control over recognized mines has diminished, these actors are still garnering some revenue from gold mining, specifically rudimentary, small scale artisanal mining operations. These operations involve only a handful of local residents who mine in small makeshift pits in areas where access to mineral deposits does not require sophisticated technology. While gold originating from artisanal mining, is often tainted by conflict, efforts to combat such extraction is more difficult than overseeing recognized and established mines operated by formal companies.
Nevertheless, inspired by the Frank-Dodd Act, on July 27th CEOs and trade leaders met in New York and participated in a forum hosted by the jewelry industry: one of the first ever public events addressing conflict-free gold sourcing. Industry leaders have expressed their desire to implement additional supply-chain due diligence measures in order to ensure that conflict gold from artisanal mining is barred. Ashley Orbach, Senior Adviser on Conflict Minerals and Precious Stones at the U.S. Department of State, states that the government plays a vital role in such efforts and the U.S. government is currently working with the jewellery industry to inform them of the impacts of government initiatives.vi
With Bill 486, Canada has the opportunity to follow suit by echoing American efforts against conflict minerals, something which is imperative for Ottawa given Canada's role in Central Africa. Canada has one of the largest presences in the Congolese mining sector. For instance, in 2012 there were 25 international mining companies operating in the DRC of which a plurality (9) were Canadian. Moreover, Canada plays a dominant role in the DRC with regards to copper and cobalt output, both important minerals in the electronics industry and elsewhere. Canadian companies control over two thirds of all copper and cobalt output in the DRC.
To put the extent of Canadian involvement in the DRC in perspective, the tax revenue which the Congolese government receives from just one Canadian mining company – First Quantum Minerals – amounts to between 1/8th and 1/4th of the country's total tax revenues, equal to the entire healthcare budget or 3.1% of Gross National Income (GNI).vii
The adoption of Bill 486 would support Canada's promises to tackle conflict minerals, by ensuring that domestic law matches out pledges. The issue of conflict minerals requires the cooperation of both governments and industry to create a workable framework for enforcement, regulation and verification of conflict-free extractive practices. By following the example of the United States, Canada could, especially given the dominant position of Canadian mining companies in the DRC, become a leading player in the global effort against conflict minerals.
iTimo Mueller, “Brutal, Conflict Minerals Smuggling General Escapes Justice,” Project Enough, http://enoughproject.org/blogs/brutal-conflict-minerals-smuggling-general-escapes-justice?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+enoughblog+
iiDavid Smith, “Congo Mines No Longer in the Hands of Warlords and Militias, Report Says,” The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/11/congo-mines-no-longer-grip-warlords-militias-report-enough-project
vHuman Rights Watch, http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/06/09/icc-congolese-warlord-go-trial
viEnough Project, “Jewelry Leaders and CEOs Join Enough Project in Conflict Gold Solutions Forum,” http://enoughproject.org/blogs/jewelry-leaders-and-ceos-join-enough-project-conflict-gold-solutions-forum?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+enoughblog+%28Enough+Said%29
viiGarrett, Nicholas; Lintzer, Marie (2010). "Can Katanga's mining sector drive growth and development in the DRC?", Journal of Eastern African Studies, 4(3), 400-424