On the 9th of February of this year, through one of the internet news sources I follow from the USA called, ‘Reader Supported News’ (RSN), I was dismade to read about a leaked Trump Presidential memo that would free US companies to buy ‘Conflict Minerals’ from Central African Warlords. According to the report, Donald Trump was expected to sign this Presidential Memorandum within days. In effect it suspends a 2010 rule that discouraged American companies from funding conflict and human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo through their purchase of “conflict minerals.”
I have written on conflict minerals on my Blog a few times in the past. In March of 2015 I published an article entitled, “The Curse of Coltan.” Coltan is short for Columbite Tantelite, which is a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in the eastern areas of The Congo. When refined, Coltan becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. These properties make it a vital element in creating capacitors, the electronic elements that control current flow inside miniature circuit boards. Tantalum capacitors are used in almost all cell phones, laptops, computers, iPads, flat screen TV’s, pagers and many other electronics.
Coltan is classified as a ‘Conflict Mineral,’ because the global demand for Coltan has fueled a bloody civil war in central Africa; one that has claimed six million lives to date. A UN report claims that all parties involved in the Congolese civil war have been involved in the mining and sale of Coltan. The multimillion-dollar trade of Congolese Coltan and other natural resources by foreign armies, rebels, and militias fuels the conflict by motivating armed groups to wage war, and by providing them with cash to do so.
This blog article has received over 500 views since first published and so in March of 2016 I published a follow up article entitled, “Coltan Update.” Then in October of 2016 I published an article entitled, “Cobalt and Congo,” which explained how Cobalt, while not classified as a conflict mineral, is also part of the equation due to its value for the electronics industry and its part is slavery intensive supply chains. Finally, in February of this year I published an article entitled, “Modern Slavery in the Electronics Industry,” which looks at the issue of human trafficking and modern day slavery in the supply chains of the electronics industry.
The leaked memo (document-final), distributed inside the administration, and obtained by The Intercept, directs the Securities and Exchange Commission to temporarily waive the requirements of the Conflict Mineral Rule, a provision of the Dodd Frank Act (the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010), for two years. The reason given in the memo, and which the act allows for, is national security. The idea behind the Act in the first place, which had bipartisan support at the time, was to drain militias of revenue by forcing firms to conduct reviews of their supply chain to determine if contractors used minerals sourced from the militias.
As the RSN reported, human rights advocates, who had celebrated the conflicts rule as a major step forward, were appalled. “Any executive action suspending the U.S. conflict minerals rule would be a gift to predatory armed groups seeking to profit from Congo’s minerals as well as a gift to companies wanting to do business with the criminal and the corrupt,” said Carly Oboth, the policy adviser at Global Witness, in a statement responding to a Reuters article that first reported the move. “It is an abuse of power that the Trump administration is claiming that the law should be suspended through a national security exemption intended for emergency purposes. Suspending this provision could actually undermine U.S. national security.”
Firms such as Intel, Apple, HP, and IBM use advanced chips that contain tantalum, gold, tin, and tungsten – elements that can be mined at low prices in the DRC, where mines are often controlled by militias. American tech companies, such as Intel, lobbied directly against the rule when it was proposed. But since passage of the Act, tech firms have largely used third party business groups to stymie the rule. Trade groups representing major U.S. tech firms and other manufacturers, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, attempted to block the rule through a federal lawsuit. In 2014, a federal court struck down a part of the rule that forced firms to reveal DRC conflict minerals on their corporate websites.
So we can speculate on why Donald Trump wants to suspend the act for reasons of ‘National Security.’ Perhaps the leveling of the playing field, which the rule has produced, has equally disadvantaged those sides in the conflict supported by the US intelligence agencies as well as those opposed by these agencies. Or perhaps ‘National Security’ is the wool being pulled over our eyes, designed to garner favour, or at least a blind eye, from Americans fearful of terrorism, to allow US companies to increase their profits at the expense of innocent African lives. While we’ve seen this before – US governments for whom the end justifies the means – it should concern us just how low the Trump administration will go to erode all the advances in human rights made over the last 100 years.