The revelation that revenue from mineral sales was fueling civil conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) prompted legislators in the United States to pass Section 1502 as part of the Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010. Also known as the Conflict Minerals Rule, the law requires companies to reveal if any of the metals used in their products has come from the DRC or its neighboring states. If so, the companies must explain the due diligence measures they have taken to determine the minerals’ origins, such as an independent audit of their reports on the minerals’ country of origin and the location of the mines from which the minerals were extracted.
A new draft Executive Order from the Trump Administration would suspend Section 1502. The move rests on the claim that the rule has “contributed to instability in the region and threatened the national security interest of the United States.” The Department of State and the Department of the Treasury will reportedly work together to devise an alternative plan aimed specifically at companies purchasing conflict minerals.
While evidence on the effects of Section 1502 has been mixed, suspending the rule is likely to exacerbate the conflict in the DRC.
It is true that Section 1502 has not cut off funds from rebel groups and the Congolese army and has, instead, led them to diversify their sources of revenue, such as through selling marijuana, palm oil, and soap. Rebel groups that have continued generating money from mining have done so by taxing mineral extraction, rather than directly selling the minerals themselves. That being said, suspending the Conflict Minerals Rule means those groups engaged in the DRC conflict will likely resume selling minerals.
Eliminating the rule would also undermine its obvious positive effects, particularly for legitimate miners, who have benefited from an increased demand for conflict-free minerals. In the city of Rubaya, located in the DRC’s North Kivu province, for example, the sale of conflict-free minerals has created a flourishing economy. As a result, Rubaya has grown from a population of 1,500 to 40,000 in less than four years.
Given these benefits, and with repeal of the rule likely, steps can and should be taken to put pressure on businesses to maintain transparency about their mineral supply chains. As with other similar initiatives, civil society must play a central role in these efforts.
The anti-sweatshop movement in the 1990s, for example, brought together a diverse set of civil society groups, including non-governmental organizations, student groups, and labor unions. Leveraging a “naming and shaming” strategy to campaign against poor labor practices, this coalition forced companies like Nike, Wal-Mart, and the Gap to “adopt codes of conduct for their supply chains.”
By engaging in similar strategies, civil society can maintain the demand for conflict-free minerals, even if the law changes.