"Conflict minerals" minerals that are sourced from unstable regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and surrounding countries continue to threaten a variety of manufacturing supply chains.
Over the past several years, mines and trading routes for tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold have become illegally controlled by rebel groups, which are profiting financially even as they inflict suffering on the local populations.
However, recent shifts in the control of eastern DRC may represent opportunities to begin reversing that trend.
Congo's mineral trade in the balance: opportunities and obstacles to demilitarization, a new report from Global Witness, concludes that even though much of eastern Congo's mineral trade remains under armed control, the recent departure of the Congolese army from Bisle the region's largest mine is a promising development.
According to the report:
Now that the Congolese army has withdrawn from Bisle, it is essential that a legitimate trade in minerals from the mine is established. Global Witness calls on the UN peacekeeping force MONUSCO to play a role and also urges companies to rapidly impose effective supply chain checks.
Unfortunately, though, companies operating in DRC and neighboring countries have so far failed to comply with due diligence standards set out by the UN Security Council and the OECD. Global Witness maintains that this is holding up efforts to break the link between minerals and armed violence in eastern Congo and preventing the establishment of a clean minerals trade.
In addition, Rwanda which is the key conduit for Congolese minerals is not effectively weeding out conflict minerals along its supply chains from DRC.
Without this kind of "due diligence" from all sides, Global Witness points out that the main beneficiaries of a recent six-month mining ban imposed by the Congolese government appear to be senior military commanders, who have consolidated their hold on extortion and smuggling rackets.
"The choice that Congo faces is not - as some companies present it - between an embargo or business as usual with all its brutal human consequences," said Annie Dunnebacke, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness."Companies can make a huge positive difference by implementing proper supply chain controls in line with agreed international standards. If they do this, then finally Congo's citizens will be able to benefit from some of their mineral wealth rather than seeing it flow to predatory armed groups and militias."