In an open letter to governments, companies, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders implicated in efforts of various kinds related to the issue of ‘conflict minerals’, a group of 70 academic experts and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) officials expressed their concerns that the international movement to create a conflict-free supply chain is having a negative impact on the people it is meant to help. In particular, while progress has been made in producing more ethical products for consumers, the conflict-free supply chain has not yet proceeded to improve the lives of Congolese people. The main points raised in the letter are as follows:
- Only a small fraction of the hundreds of mining sites in the eastern DRC have been reached by traceability or certification efforts;
- Miners who are not under the umbrella of a certification program have three options
- turn to the margins of legality (for instance, feeding into smuggling rackets), where armed actors return through the loopholes of transnational regulation.
- cease mining and return to subsistence agriculture where persisting insecurity levels leave them in abject poverty facing dire living conditions.
- join militias as a means to quick cash in the absence of other opportunities.
- Even in the regions covered by the iTSCi bagging-and-tagging scheme, despite the establishment of a ‘closed pipeline’ from mine to exportation, the mine still suffers from the sporadic influence of armed actors, and miners are made to bear the additional costs of ‘conflict-free’ schemes.
The letter asks the stakeholders to take steps to improve communications with local governments, promote deeper reforms in the supply chain, create incentives for greater cooperation, and consider the broader issues underlying the conflict in the region to achieve positive changes for the people who are suffering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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