The Herald, Wednesday 20 May 2015
MANY of the minerals that end up in our smartphones and tablets are sourced from mines in Africa and beyond where battles rage for their control.
The European Union is trying to clamp down on these conflict minerals ending up in our electronics, but a weak proposal being propped up by conservatives and liberals in a European Parliament vote today risks effecting little change on the ground.
The European Commission's proposal to introduce due diligence in supply chains came after months of lobbying from Members of the European Parliament and non-governmental organisations. The US and China already have mandatory requirements for companies to undertake checks in their supply chains to verify the minerals they use have not come from rebel-controlled mines or been used to finance armed conflict.
However, the commission proposed a voluntary system for companies in Europe, which make little to no difference on the ground if companies are simply given the option of undertaking checks. Voluntary guidelines have been in place for years and 80 per cent of European companies have failed to provide any evidence of their due diligence.
Arguments that mandatory requirements are too burdensome have no foundation. Due diligence does not require companies to be entirely responsible for the whole supply chain, but simply to check one step behind them in the process and ensure the smelter, refiner or manufacturer they are purchasing from has undertaken similar checks. This is much harder for responsible businesses if their supplier has decided not to participate and cannot verify the minerals are in a clean supply chain.
Labour MEPs and our sister parties in the Socialist and Democrat Group in the European Parliament have tried to strengthen the proposed legislation by making it mandatory up and down the supply chain, with flexibilities built in for a phase-in period.
We have been extremely disappointed that conservative and liberal MEPs have not supported this approach. As the second largest political group in the European Parliament with 191 Members, the Socialist and Democrat Group has been at the forefront of this campaign but the vote will be very close without conservative or liberal support. Proposed compromises from these groups for the legislation to apply only to European smelters and refiners have been exposed as a face-saving fudge which would apply to only five per cent of global trade.
The Parliament vote this week is only the first stage. Once the European Parliament adopts a position we will enter into negotiations with all 28 member state national governments in the Council to reach a final agreement on the legislation. Indications from the council are that a majority of governments favour a voluntary scheme. We face an uphill battle to get a progressive piece of trade legislation adopted.
Rebel militias are funding extreme violent conflict across Africa and Latin America which is fuelling widespread human rights abuses and instability. As the world's biggest market the European Union has the opportunity to make a real difference on the ground by cutting off finance from these armed groups and supporting the livelihoods of ordinary workers.
I will be voting for mandatory requirements, and it's time conservatives and liberals joined us.
Labour MEP for Scotland,
European Parliament, AllÃ©e du Printemps, 67000 Strasbourg, France.