In support of Dodd-Frank conflict minerals regulation

Sasha Lezhnev

Associate director of policy at the Enough Project

IRIN’s recent article, Who pays the hidden price for Congo’s conflict-free minerals, offers a compelling story that highlights some real challenges facing many Congolese people today.

Unfortunately, it misses the broader importance and impact of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank law: supply chain transparency for the minerals trade, and the breaking of the links between minerals and deadly armed groups in eastern Congo.

Dodd-Frank 1502 is a hard-won demonstration of the United States’ support for corporate transparency in environments where opacity, and the lack of rule of law, have cost lives and spurred brutality.

The article focuses on Kisengo, a different region of Congo than the area that led the US Congress to pass Dodd-Frank 1502. The Kivu provinces, where the deadliest war since World War II has brutalized communities, is home to the bulk of tin, tantalum, tungsten mining in Congo, and has major gold deposits also.

Fuel for conflict

The minerals have been a major fuel for conflict in the Kivus. Dodd-Frank 1502 has largely de-linked three out of the four conflict minerals from armed group violence. Seventy-nine percent of miners at tin, tantalum, and tungsten mines surveyed in three conflict-affected provinces in eastern Congo now work at conflict-free mines, according to a study by the International Peace Information Service (IPIS) in October 2016.

This is a major change compared to 2010, the year that Dodd-Frank passed, when the UN stated  that nearly every mine in the Kivus was controlled by a military group.

While President Joseph Kabila’s mining ban in 2010 and initial implementation of the law were poor, and miners in some areas faced livelihood challenges, this has changed significantly. There have been record-breaking exports of certified conflict-free minerals in the Kivus since then. North Kivu exported a record 1,121 tons of tantalum in 2016 and 1,550 tons of tin.

Dodd-Frank 1502 also spurred the first-ever minerals certification process, that of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, and 220 mines have been validated as conflict-free by multi-stakeholder teams.

Preventing smuggling, eliminating corruption, enforcing the rights of mining cooperatives and their members, and ensuring the basic needs of families who rely on mining for their livelihoods are met – these are all critical goals. Suspending, repealing, or weakening Dodd-Frank 1502 will not help achieve them. Those objectives require nuanced, locally-led and internationally-supported, responsible minerals trade development and rule-of-law initiatives.

Support for Dodd-Frank

Turning to the suspension or repeal of Dodd-Frank 1502 as a solution will reverse meaningful progress on increasing the rule of law in a previous black market and pushing corporations to understand and publish the origin of materials in their products.

There is significant support for Dodd-Frank 1502 and the continued reform of the mining sector in Congo and the Great Lakes region. Several activists have been calling for regulation since long before Dodd-Frank was passed, and Congolese human rights and governance groups have issued seven different letters over the past two weeks in strong support of the law, signed by 89 different Congolese civil society groups and activists.

For example, a letter signed by 31 civil society groups said: “Any step to suspend section 1502 would undoubtedly lead to conflict minerals infiltrating the supply chain with devastating effects. Namely, the reactivation of armed groups and the feeding of terrorist and mafia networks.”

Another letter signed by 13 Congolese human rights groups in North Kivu said: “The introduction of the Dodd-Frank Act was a way of reducing the number of violent acts committed by these warlords and enabled the suspension of illegal arms sales; sales which had facilitated the proliferation of unauthorised weapons in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Mr President [Trump], we wish to most expressly assure you that if you decide to call into question the Dodd-Frank Act, this will once again lend legitimacy to the presence and proliferation of armed groups in the east of the DRC, something which Congolese civil society condemns in the strongest terms.” 

A separate open letter, signed earlier by a different group of 31 Congolese civil society groups and others said: “Dodd-Frank has been the primary driver of corporate and regional policy change on conflict minerals.”

More recently, a coalition led by the Congolese organisation, GATT-RN, urged the Trump administration not to take steps to repeal 1502 since that would risk “plunging the Congolese people and the Great Lakes Region of Africa into the tragedy of [blood minerals].”

Maintaining progress

Significant problems remain in Congo’s mining sector, and further steps, such as sanctions on gold smugglers, are needed combat the conflict gold trade.

It is precisely because so many individuals rely on the mining industry in Congo that so many Congolese are calling for its thorough reform. The way to achieve that is through the construction of rule of law and a credible certification system, buoyed by disclosure requirements in minerals sourcing and real consequences for minerals smugglers.

Those goals have not yet been fully achieved, but important steps toward them have been taken for the first time since Dodd-Frank 1502 passed. Efforts to weaken or repeal the law risk undoing years of progress and distracting from the work left to be done to improve livelihoods, security, and traceability in eastern Congo’s mines.

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TOP PHOTO: Artisanal gold miners near Iga-Barrière, DRC. CREDIT: Guy Oliver/IRIN