Conflict Minerals Explained

Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is very rich in minerals and natural resources. For example, it is a big resource for columbite–tantalite (aka. coltan), a dull black metallic ore; which is used in mobile phones and other electronic gadgets. The money obtained thus has been further used to finance the conflicts.

In last few years, there has been an increasing focus on the conflict minerals. The term Conflict Minerals is used to describe the minerals such as Gold, Wolframite, Casserite, Columbite-tantalite and their derivative metals such as tin, tungsten, tantalum etc. which are sourced from mines under the control of militants or armed groups in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or the surrounding countries.

Why Focus on Conflict Minerals?

It is believed that the armed groups in these regions subject the workers (mostly indigenous people) to serious human rights abuses; and the proceeds of the sale of conflict minerals is used to further finance the conflict and violence.

These minerals are first smuggled out of DRC and then shipped to smelters around the world for refining.

Once the minerals are refined, it’s not possible to trace the source and thus these minerals are able to easily make their way to global markets. The armed groups make hundreds of millions dollars every year by trading these minerals and use the money for personal profit and to make more weapons.  Most of these minerals, particularly the 3Ts viz. tin, tantalum, tungsten; and gold from the mines of eastern Congo finally make the way to our cell phones, music players, computers and laptops. Since there is a lack of transparent minerals supply chain; it is not possible to ensure if while buying mobile phones and computers / laptops, we are financing the armed groups there.

Framework against Conflict Minerals

Various governmental organizations such as US Government Accountability Office, OECD etc. and industry associations such as Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) have been working to raise awareness about the conflict minerals.

To provide legal force, the United States had put section 1502 in its Dodd–Frank Act, 2010 to make companies mandatorily disclose the source of minerals. The government out there is giving more attention to the material supply chain originating from Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and adjacent countries.