Considerations for activism: on the U.S. Conflict Minerals Act

1 May

 

Since the Enough Project has successfully recruited me as one of their heartfelt fans, I’ve paid attention whenever the issue of conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has come up. In writing a study guide for SHSMUN on this topic, I have come across some interesting information regarding the current status of the movement to ban conflict minerals.

Apparently, the U.S. Senate has passed something commonly called the Conflict Minerals Law within the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which has been signed by President Obama on July 21st, 2010. Subsequently on April 27th, 2011, Rwanda passed a law banning the export of Conflict Minerals from DRC, the minister stating that they “have placed instructions with our immigration department not to allow any uncertified minerals, and also to carry out rigorous due diligence on any ores entering Rwanda from conflict areas.”

Bravo USA! Bravo Rwanda! So Enough has achieved its goal here, right?

Apparently, the situation is much more complex. Upon closer scrutiny of the wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conflict_minerals#United_States_Law.2FRegulations), it seems that this law is going through some ‘public comments’. Why? Hasn’t it already passed in Senate? So implement it already!

Not so simple. I asked my lawyer friend Mike what was going on, here was his response:

The reason why it’s going through this public comments period (finalization has been pushed back to sometime between May and August of 2011) is because senators aren’t so smart – a separate body, the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), has to be there to define how the law should be implemented. Senate puts down the ‘intent’ of the law, and the SEC tries to make that intent performable. So in this case the SEC are accepting public comments, possibly from the industry, on what possibilities the industry has in making this law effective. For example, certain IT companies may feel that it is difficult to trace the source of their materials that just came from ‘the free market’ and this law is putting undue burden on their workings. So here the law might either be weakened or specified to allow workability for the IT companies.

Fascinating stuff. A sound system of checks are what makes a mature democracy! So I looked up the comments that were being proposed by the public. Among the comments was this very interesting letter from Générale des Coopératives Minières du Sud Kivu (GECOMISKI), a mining cooperative from Sud Kivu, a part of eastern DRC.

http://www.sec.gov/comments/s7-40-10/s74010-219.pdf

The basic gist of it being that there are legitimate mining operations in the region that are people’s initiatives with very little means to be certified, and to ask the Americans to please defer the law until they could find means to be certified conflict-free. Otherwise many people would lose jobs and this may contribute to the unrest in the region.

The situation is definitely not cut-and-dry.

Update: Here is the Enough Projects’ response to accusations of impeding livelihoods:

Of course, in the short term the local miners have no good alternatives and without being able to work in the mines their families suffer real hardship. That’s why Enough supports industry and government efforts to mitigate their situation and work toward the creation of alternative livelihoods. In the longer term, only real reform of the mining sector to allow for jobs with good working conditions and acceptable compensation will fully address the needs of the local population.

So there is more behind the letter to the US government than I’d suspected. According to Eric Hoffer in his book talking about how mass movements are formed, those who are in extremely bad situations (extremely poor) are very unlikely to seek social change because they fear that any change would only make a bad situation worse. It may be very hard for the miners in the area to see a better future with their subsistence paying jobs gone – but what is needed in these areas are what we expect in Nike factories in China – reasonable pay, work and living conditions! That is not too much to ask for us sallow skinned Chinese, and it’s definitely not to much to ask for the Congolese! An even more long-term view would be to allow a sustainable economy to develop in the region, besides mining, which Enough’s article addresses.

http://www.enoughproject.org/blogs/be-slave-or-die

I am very glad that the Enough project is thorough on this human rights campaign.

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