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European Union risks undermining global efforts to tackle conflict minerals

An Amnesty International researcher visited a mine in the Carnot region in May 2015. Children as young as 11 were engaged in mining work instead of attending school. © Amnesty International

What we’re asking for is simple – that the European Union requires European companies to act with due care when buying these minerals or products. This is entirely in line with existing international standards that EU Member States signed-up to years ago.

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
PRESS RELEASE

15 June 2016

European Union risks undermining global efforts to tackle conflict minerals

The European Union is set to squander a unique opportunity to play its part in tackling the conflict minerals trade, Amnesty International warns on the eve of negotiations to agree a new EU law. 

The European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission will meet this evening to hold further negotiations on a proposed law designed to prevent the minerals trade from funding conflict and human rights violations. After nearly two years of negotiations a political agreement is expected, as the Dutch presidency pushes to seal the deal before its mandate ends.

Amnesty International is concerned that negotiations are heading in the wrong direction. If EU institutions agree to the latest proposal put forward by the Dutch presidency, the law would have little impact. Only a small number of companies within European would be legally required to check and disclose if the minerals they buy are linked to conflict or human rights abuses. Most companies in Europe – including big brand companies that import products containing these minerals into the EU – would be left to choose whether or not to source them responsibly.

What we’re asking for is simple – that the European Union requires European companies to act with due care when buying these minerals or products. This is entirely in line with existing international standards that EU Member States signed-up to years ago,” said Iverna McGowan Head of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

Instead, the EU is set to agree on a law that will have little to no meaningful impact and could in fact undermine the very global standards the EU has committed to uphold,” she added.

The EU’s immense trading leverage puts it in the perfect position to ensure companies selling goods within it are not profiting from human rights abuses and conflict. In today’s negotiations EU institutions must match their international commitments to human rights with concrete action and agree on a law that ensures that companies take due care when importing both raw minerals as well as the products containing them. To do otherwise risks undermining international standards and efforts to tackle this global problem.

Background

The EU is the world’s largest economy, the world’s largest trading bloc, and home to 500 million consumers. Every year, millions of euros worth of minerals flow into the EU from some of the poorest places on earth. These minerals can make their way into everyday products such as mobile phones, laptops, cars, and light bulbs. No questions are asked about how they are mined, or whether their trade fuels conflict or violence in local communities. Civil society organisations have documented the links between minerals, conflict, and human rights abuses for many years, ranging from the role of minerals in funding violent armed groups to the use of child labour in mines.

In May 2015, the European Parliament threw its support behind a law that, if passed, would have required companies importing minerals both in their raw form and in products to check and disclose if they had funded conflict or human rights abuses.

In contrast, EU Member States have sought to let most European companies off the hook by favouring a law that would apply only to a small number of European companies that buy minerals in their raw form, while completely ignoring the huge number of companies that bring minerals into the EU in products. A proposal from Member States last December also undermines international standards previously endorsed by EU governments, by significantly reducing the checks required by certain companies covered by the law.

If the latest proposal put forward by the Dutch Presidency is accepted, most companies in Europe would be left to choose whether or not to act responsibly when buying these minerals or products. The limits of such an approach are well-known: widely publicised research shows that very few companies in Europe are opting to check on their supply chains. In acknowledgement of this, various countries around the world – from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the United States – have passed laws to regulate this trade.

Earlier this week 130 civil society organisations in an open letter to the Dutch presidency urged the European Union to live up to its international obligations and to effectively tackle the conflict minerals trade.


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