Conflict Minerals Forum

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Mwendo Congo co-hosted a forum on conflict minerals on May 1st, sponsored by the Center for Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Here are some of the key things we learned from the speaker and panelists.

Corporations have an important role in addressing the problem of conflict minerals. Best Buy, for example, according to their director of corporate responsibility Hamlin Metzger, works not only to comply with U.S. laws, but seeks to go beyond the reporting requirements for conflict minerals as laid out in the Dodd-Frank Act. It can be extremely complicated and challenging for corporations to track minerals in products which contain hundreds of components from hundreds of suppliers. One approach to this dilemma is to target smelters around the world that specifically refine tungsten, tin, tantalum and gold, focusing on these four key “conflict minerals”. Ensuring that these smelters are sourcing their raw materials responsibly through rigorous audits can be a very positive step forward. It is important to note, however, that the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), under the current administration, is not enforcing rules related to responsible mineral sourcing.  

In the current context, when the federal government is unwilling to enforce current policies or enact new ones, citizens still have an opportunity to take meaningful local action for addressing the conflict minerals issue. World Without Genocide (WWG), says executive director Dr. Ellen Kennedy, is leading efforts to get organizations, colleges, cities and other entities to commit to buying “conflict-free” products. In addition, WWG promoted a bill in the 2016 Minnesota Legislature for the state to follow reporting language similar to the Dodd-Frank Act, but was disappointed that lawmakers refused to pass the measure.

Amnesty International (AI), a human rights advocacy group, provides concrete action opportunities for those of us who want to impact change. Many community leaders in countries like the Congo who speak out against the violence, exploitation of children and environmental devastation created by the unchecked abuses in the mining industry are often imprisoned or otherwise silenced. AI provides an excellent overview of the current context in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Jennifer Greene, UofM law professor and local AI member, encourages us to follow Action Alerts from AI to support their important work protecting human rights around the world.

Good governance – in the DRC, and in North American and European countries – is necessary to ensure that governments respect the rights of people, and that international mining corporations do not engage in activities like bribes that weaken local governance. Pastor Kubisa Muzenende knows firsthand the devastation wreaked on DRC communities by the conflict over minerals. He challenges us to recognize that many countries and companies have an interest in continued instability in the eastern Congo and elsewhere, to maintain easy access to precious resources. All of us need to think about the impact we can have through our consumer choices, advocacy and voting our values.

The public forum was a success. Over 50 people from the University of Minnesota, World Without Genocide, and Mwendo Congo’s network attended. The program began with a keynote address by Hamlin Metzger, the director of social responsibility at Best Buy and the Chair of the U.S.-wide Responsible Minerals Initiative. The keynote was followed by a panel discussion with Jennifer Green, Associate Clinical Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School Human Rights Center and member of a local Amnesty International chapter; Dr. Ellen Kennedy, Executive Director of World Without Genocide and Adjunct Professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law; Pastor Kubisa Muzenende, the founder of the Congolese organization Let Africa Live. The panel was moderated by Professor Dave Wilsey, the Director of the Development Practice program at the Humphrey School. Thank you to everyone who came out for this event!