Conflict Minerals

For two quick and dirty summaries of the debate, see below. For my Congressional testimony, see here. (For an article that is neither quick nor dirty see Laura Seay's piece here.)

For a round-up of the criticism from independent scholars and research-based NGOs, see here.

For a round-up of Congolese voices opposing the campaign and subsequent legislation, see here.

For newspaper articles on Dodd-Frank's impacts in the Congo, see here.

My blog entries on the subject are here.

And for a longer bibliography on the subject, see here (tk).


Dodd-Frank 1502 requires public companies to fess up if they buy any minerals from eastern Congo. Advocates say it will help end the conflicts in the region by depriving militia of the profits they derive from the "conflict mineral" trade. I oppose it because I don't think it will do much to end the conflicts, and because it has deprived one to two million artisanal miners of their livelihood. Four key points:
1) It won't end the conflicts because they're only secondarily about the minerals. Neither of the two worst militia (the CNDP and FDLR) is in it for money, and both have access to other sources of revenue. 
2) By pushing the mineral trade under ground, Dodd-Frank has actually driven it into the hands of the very militia the law was meant to hurt, earning them windfall profits (think what prohibition did for the mafia). 
3) Advocates failed to disclose that nearly all local knowledgeable civil society groups opposed what they were doing and warned of the harm it would cause their communities. 
4) Most importantly, the embargo of the region's minerals has come at a tremendous cost to the miners and their families.


The conflict minerals controversy refers to an ongoing debate about the effectiveness and impact of a human rights campaign that seeks to reduce conflict in eastern Congo by eliminating the ability of the region’s armed actors to make money off the mineral trade.

Armed conflict and serious human rights abuses have persisted in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo for nearly two decades.[1] Much of the region’s economy depends on the artisanal extraction of minerals, particularly gold and the so-called three Ts: cassiterite (tin), wolframite (tungsten), and coltan (tantalum).[2] These minerals are used in cans, cars, construction, and consumer electronic devices, as well as in an array of industrial processes.[3] Two Western NGOs, the British Global Witness and the American Enough Project, have claimed that there is a close, causal link between the conflicts and the region’s mineral trade.[4] They sought legislation in Europe and the United States requiring companies using these minerals to conduct supply chain analyses to make sure that their purchases do not ultimately derive from armed actors in eastern Congo.[5] In the United States, their campaign culminated in the passage of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act.[6] Passed in July 2010, the law requires publicly owned companies to disclose whether they use any of the so-called conflict minerals in their products and if so, whether they have exercised due diligence on the source and chain of custody of those minerals.[7] In the succinct formulation of Barney Frank, one of the principal authors of the legislation, the goal of the act is “to cut off funding to people who kill people.”[8]

Recently, the campaign itself has become the target of sustained criticism, not only from industry groups, but from an array of independent scholars, journalists and NGOs. These critics make the following criticisms of the campaign:

1) It misdiagnoses the nature of the conflicts in eastern Congo, and so does little or nothing to attenuate their severity.[9]

2) It has hurt the very people it was meant to help, by depriving the million or so people who depend on artisanal mining of their livelihood.[10] Fifty Congolese civil society organizations wrote to the SEC seeking relief, they said, “from the unintended economic crisis that has befallen our people as a result of the recent passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.”[11]
3) It has helped the people it was meant to hurt by driving the mineral trade underground, into the hands of the warlords and military commanders who were supposed to have been shut out of the trade.[12]
4) It stymied existing efforts to formalize the trade and discouraged existing programs that aim to increase the traceability in minerals.[13]
5) Finally, it was opposed by a large majority of knowledgeable local civil society groups, who warned Western advocates of the harm it would cause their communities.[14]

Many industry groups also oppose the legislation, including the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable.[15] While voicing sympathy for the plight of the Congolese, they argue that conforming to the law will be burdensome and expensive. The law asks that listed companies prove, in effect, a negative: that conflict minerals at no point ever enter into their dynamic, backward-branching supply chain. Some of the affected companies are conglomerates that have thousands of direct suppliers, many of which in turn have hundreds of suppliers of their own. Estimates regarding the cost of compliance with the law range widely. The SEC estimates the rules will cost companies a total of $3 billion to $4 billion upfront, plus more than $200 million a year.[16] An advocate-sponsored study suggested the costs would come in at $ less than $1 billion,[17] while an industry-sponsored study estimated that costs could run up to $14 billion.[18]

The advocacy groups that spearhead the initiative make several points in its defense. They argue that the legislation does not, in fact, place a de facto embargo on minerals from the DRC.[19] They claim the law encouraged the Congolese Army to pull out of several mines[20]--a claim later called into question by a Western NGO that did extensive field research in the area.[21] They showcase the efforts of Motorola to build a supply chain in Katanga, a Congolese province neighboring the conflict-prone Kivu Provinces. Finally, they point out that some Congolese NGOs and Western industry groups favor the legislation[22] and that it has been endorsed by many of the world’s leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.[23] Other prominent defenders of the legislation include Margot Wallström, the UN special representative for sexual violence in conflict, and Peter Rosenblum, a Columbia law school professor.[24]

There has been no sustained survey of the impact of the legislation on the well-being of the people of eastern Congo.[25] However, the region’s conflicts, which appeared to be in a period of relative dormancy, have reignited since its passage.[26]

[2] The region's economy was devastated first under 30 years of misrule by Mobutu, then by 15 subsequent years of intermittent war. Reliable statistics regarding the trade and its importance to the region's economy are sparse. The most commonly cited "guesstimates" are that the trade was worth some $200 to $400 million a year, and that some 400,000 people were directly involved in it, most of them young men supporting families. Only subsistence agriculture was more important to the economy and livelihood of the majority of the region's inhabitants.
[4] and and
[6] In Europe, the campaign resulted in the promulgation of OECD Due Diligence Guidance to help companies respect human rights and avoid contributing to conflict through their mineral or metal purchasing decisions and practices. See

[18] tk
[19] Of course, if the law did require an embargo, the subsequent embargo would be de jure rather than de facto. The criticism is that the predictable effect of the law was to induce companies to leave the Congo, not that the law formally required them to.
[25] See my plea here: A UN report published in tk