The Highland News, September 2014
Our attraction to gadgetry and up-to-date technology can often lead us to overlook the ethical issues concerning the mineral components contained in electronic devices. This is an important issue and one far too easily ignored. Readers may well be unaware that the mining of certain minerals (including tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold) has been linked with horrific human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia and other conflict zones. The trade in these minerals, essential for the components of electronic goods, is often used to finance violent conflict by paying for armed groups and security forces. In some poor, but resource-rich countries, workers, hired at gunpoint suffer terrible conditions and their families are terrorised and under constant threat. These ‘conflict minerals’ are entering the supply chains of multinational companies and ending up in many of the increasingly popular products that we buy, most notably laptops and mobile phones.
As the world’s largest trading bloc, and home to many leading global companies trading and manufacturing natural resources, the European Union has an enormous influence on global supply chains and an opportunity, and I believe, responsibility, to bring in strong and effective legislation to enable businesses and consumers to check whether their purchases have funded conflict and human rights abuse.
New draft legislation has been brought forward by the European Commission setting out the key elements for inclusion in EU legislation to encourage European businesses to carry out thorough supply chain checks to make sure they are not using or trading natural resources that are funding violence.
This legislation has now come to the European Parliament. It will be the role of MEPs to work with the European Council to reach an agreement on the final text and the International Trade Committee in the Parliament, of which I am a member, will begin scrutinising this legislation over the next few months.
The proposed regulation is to establish voluntary certification and a transparency obligation for the 400 European companies that import minerals from countries at war. The proposal is not for a compulsory requirement and the 400 European importers identified represent only 34% of the global market. Almost 90% of minerals sourced in conflict zones are treated by Asian foundries, mainly in China, Indonesia and Malaysia. The origins of these indirect imports are likely to remain difficult to trace.
Labour MEPs along with our sister parties in the Socialist and Democrat Group have put forward a proposal that the European Commission establish a pilot project on conflict minerals with the purpose of bringing together the EU and local organisations to work together to encourage the use of 'clean' supply chains and break the link of the mineral trade with armed conflict.
Hopefully, in the future and with consistent pressure from the public, manufacturers will recognise that our desire for new technology does not come without a conscience and as informed consumers will be able to use our purchasing power to drive change and no longer unwittingly contribute to further conflict and abuse.