Supporting California's Call to go "Conflict-Free"

April 7, 2011

Last year, President Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  Buried within the Act is a provision that addresses an ongoing activity at the intersection of business and human rights: the mining of minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Section 1502, or the Conflict Minerals provision, essentially requires publicly traded companies to submit annual reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosing whether their products contain minerals from Congo or adjacent countries. If so, these companies must explain the actions taken to trace the origin of the minerals and whether they come from mines that help fund armed conflict.  While the Commission is still working out the rules pertaining to how exactly this gets done, the provision itself has received strong support.

Here’s why such disclosure and due diligence are necessary: armed groups perpetrating the violence finance themselves through trade in four main minerals – tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold.  These minerals are turned into metals that are then sold on to be used in the very mobile phones and laptops you are using now.  If we as consumers knew which products contained the minerals from these mines, we could use our purchasing power as a force for change.

Consider what is happening on the ground in the DRC, where the illegal profits made from these minerals are just some of the consequences of the unregulated and unrelenting mining in the eastern region.  Gender based violence is rampant, with sexual slavery, forced recruitment, forced prostitution and rape, having reached catastrophic proportions.  Local health clinics in South Kivu report that, on average, 40 women are raped daily.

That sexual violence is an active weapon of war used by armed groups in the region is clear.  As recently as August 2010, the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC investigated and reported on the mass rape of over 300 civilians, emphasizing the link between competition over mineral resources and the violence. According to another study, conflict and the humanitarian crisis in the DRC have resulted in the death of an estimated 5,400,000 people since 1998 and continue to cause as many as 45,000 deaths each month.

Congress should rightly be commended for taking the lead in addressing this horrific violence through tailored and targeted legislation in the form of Section 1502.  Once the rules are finalized, businesses may be required to disclose their own involvement with these armed groups, upstream all the way through their supply chains.

But a larger movement is beginning.

Legislation in California, introduced by State Senator Ellen Corbett, would push California to be the first state to go “Conflict-Free”. This landmark piece of legislation, SB 861, would stop California contracts from going to companies that fail to comply with Federal reporting requirements to combat the trade of minerals fueling conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Linking lucrative procurement contracts with Section 1502 is a good way to incentivize  meeting the federal rules.  Further, this added piece of legislation works to ensure that businesses are held accountable in financial terms for the human rights abuses that their activities either cause directly or contribute to causing.

California is leading the way in going “Conflict-Free”.  You can help by indicating your support for this legislation.  Spread the word, sign the petition and attend the hearing on Tuesday, April 12th in Sacramento.