EU parliament pushes for Dodd-Frank style conflict mineral laws

Is your iPhone fuelling African atrocities? Not any more, say MEPs

European electronics manufacturers will have to double check where the minerals in their products come from in future, according to a draft EU law approved by MEPs on Wednesday.

The law, adopted by 402 votes to 118, is part of an effort to clamp down on so-called conflict minerals, so that European companies and consumers do not inadvertently fuel wars and human rights abuses in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold (3TG), are heavily used in electronics manufacture and are often sold by military groups to fund their activities, sometimes leading to horrific human rights violations. As a result, the European Commission proposed a voluntary system for EU importers, smelters and refiners to self-certify that they had taken steps in their supply chain to ensure that the minerals used are not funding atrocities.

Last month, Green MEP Judith Sargentini described the toothless Commission proposal as “window-dressing” and demanded a compulsory certification rule. On Wednesday, 400 MEPs agreed with her.

As metal smelters and gold refiners are the last point at which the minerals' origin can be effectively traced, MEPs also want them to undergo a compulsory, independent, third-party audit.

With “downstream” companies included, the new rule could affect as many as 880,000 firms that use tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold in manufacturing consumer products.

The parliament also wants tougher monitoring of the scheme, with a review two years after it is applied and every three years thereafter, as well as an assessment of the costs to the EU businesses.

EU legislators will now start talks with national governments to try to reach an agreement on the final version of the law.

Despite everyone's best efforts, a law may not cut the importation of conflict minerals into Europe. Even Fairphone, for whom being conflict-mineral-free is its USP, says that it “is not yet able to trace every single mineral in the phone to its source, so cannot yet claim that it is 100 per cent conflict free”. ®

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