MEPs vote to stop the conflict minerals trade in defiance of industry lobbying
On 20 May, the European Parliament took us all by surprise by voting in favour of a strong and binding law to tackle the deadly trade in conflict minerals.
The trade in resources – such as gold, diamonds, tantalum, tin and coal –perpetuates a cycle of conflict and human rights abuses in many fragile areas of the world.
These resources end up in products that we use every day, from aeroplanes and cars to mobile phones and laptops. These goods connect us to the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced by conflict in the Central African Republic and Colombia. They connect us to the thousands who have endured years of violence and abuse in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and to the unknown victims of shadowy intelligence organisations in Zimbabwe.
MEPs were not expected to take a strong position, not least because of the concerted efforts of big business to weaken the legislation. Amnesty International and Global Witness were at the forefront of the campaign to persuade MEPs to support the proposed law, which helped change the balance of opinion within the European Parliament.
This vote is not the end of the story, however. It puts MEPs in conflict with the European Commission, who proposed a much weaker scheme that would have applied to only a handful of European smelters and refiners that import tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold into the EU. The scheme would be entirely voluntary for other importers of these raw materials, and for companies that import or manufacture products containing them.
It is a grotesque irony that while the EU is so concerned to keep African migrants away from European shores, there is a reluctance to take the steps necessary to prevent conflict minerals that have displaced tens of thousands of Africans, from entering Europe.
There is still a long way to go before we win this with strong, mandatory rules, but the MEP vote is a significant milestone.
And effective action from the European Union would make a real difference. The EU is the world’s largest economy, the world’s largest trading block, and home to 500 million consumers. Every year millions of euros worth of minerals flow into the EU from some of the poorest places on earth. No questions are asked about how they are extracted, or whether their trade fuels conflict in local communities. The EU has had no legislation in place to ensure that companies source their minerals responsibly. Now is the time for change, and MEPs voting for such change is a great opportunity to move forward.
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