Our Current State of METALS & MINERALS
In 2010, Former President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Act (DFA) introducing Wall Street Reform in response to the 2008 recession. Included in this Act was a provision intended to limit the use of “conflict minerals” to fund war and militia exploiting children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The phrase “conflict minerals” traditionally refers to tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold whose mining and sale is taxed by militia to provide much of the funds for ongoing conflicts.
Some of the most horrifying atrocities have been committed by the militia profiting from these mineral extractions, which led activists and average people alike all over the world to respond by reflecting critically in our role in the conflict. As purchasers of mobile phones and smart appliances, we use the conflict minerals in our daily lives. Fortunately, since the signing of Dodd-Frank and similar regulations in other countries, companies have assessed and changed their supply chains to utilize mines that are not controlled by the groups propagating conflict. This may change as the provision regulating the use of minerals that have the potential to fund conflict is on President Trump’s list of regulations to nix according his promises on the campaign trail and a recently leaked draft of an executive order.
However, from the initial implementation of this rule, it was clear that while it may have achieved the aim of removing American consumers from the conflict in the DRC may have been achieved, the conflict was not improved by the DFA. Miners there lost their source of income and many were left with one option: join the very army that the DFA meant to defund. Additionally, the specific focus on the 3TGs in one region of conflict ignored the burden of resource extraction in other conflict-ridden regions of the world: coal mines in Colombia and 3TGs in Malaysia.
To address this complex issue, we must understand that we are part of a complex global network. Our position and resources give us the power to either continue the blind subjection of lives and the environment for profits and convenience, or to be informed, engaged stewards shaping the global effects of capitalism to be empowering to not just the end users but everyone along the way. We cannot rely just on legislation - it may not go far enough and the next President could change it. We cannot rely just on corporate social responsibility - shifting a supply chain out of conflicted regions makes the products “conflict free” but often does nothing to free the region from conflict and sometimes even makes it worse by collapsing the economy of the region. Instead we must take personal and corporate responsibility to affect the systems that connect us to the rest of the world.
In this month’s editorials I hope that you both learn more about the effects of resource extraction and about companies that have taken this into account when designing their products. Additionally, I hope you come away from this month with more ways to address the complex conflict in conflict resources.
Written by Megan Armstrong