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Eastern Congo slowly producing more conflict-free minerals -report

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 11 Aug 2014 11:36 GMT
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A trader weighs gold nuggets at an illegal mine-pit in Walungu territory of South-Kivu province near Bukavu, April 5, 2014. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe
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WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The number of mines certified as producing “conflict-free” minerals in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is slowly increasing, though challenges remain in cutting off this source of financing for rebels in the region, according to a report by the Enough Project advocacy group.

High corruption rates, widespread insecurity and weakness in infrastructure and the rule of law are making it very difficult to operate in Congo conflict zone, says Enough Project, which lobbies companies to stop buying minerals from rebels in the Great Lakes region.   

Despite these challenges, teams made up of U.N. officials, government and civil society groups have validated 112 mines in Congo as “conflict-free,” and 21 companies are now sourcing from 16 of them,  Enough said in its report “Doing Good, While Doing Well”, which makes a series of recommendations for how companies can invest in the region and source their minerals ethically.

“We are making progress in a difficult region on how to source clean minerals and to clear away obstacles for companies,” said Sasha Lezhnev, senior analyst at Enough Project.

Millions are estimated to have died in nearly two decades of bloodshed in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) fuelled by the minerals smuggled through Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

A U.S. regulation that took effect in June requires publicly traded companies in the United States to report whether their products from cars to cellphones are free of conflict minerals - gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten - that are mined by rebel groups in eastern Congo and surrounding areas. 

Some industry groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sued saying the rules are onerous, unrealistic and violate a company’s free speech rights. But an appeals court in May said the United States has the right to require them to check their supply chains.  

In a discussion on mineral sourcing held on the sidelines of a U.S.-Africa Summit last week in Washington, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Charles Rivkin of the Bureau of Economic Affairs said the new legislation is helping to prevent armed groups from using minerals to fund their activities and helping to develop responsible sourcing in the minerals trade.

“We are at a tipping point. A tipping point for Africa because the global boom in commodities has many looking to a resource-rich Africa as a growing source for the minerals needed in manufacturing,” Rivkin said in prepared remarks.

“More and more stakeholders recognize that responsible mineral sourcing isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s economically the smart thing to do. When supply chains are sustainable and well-governed, investors have the confidence to invest in companies, sectors and economies,” he said.

The United States this month pledged almost $6 million to assist in setting standards for conflict-free minerals and for validating that minerals from the region are not financing rebel groups.

(Editing by Katie Nguyen; katie.nguyen@thomsonreuters.com) 

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