Beginning of the end for Congo’s conflict minerals?

Conflict minerals dug from the hillsides of eastern Congo are key components in electronic gadgets bought by Western consumers but a new financial act in the US that comes into force this week may help bring an end to an illegal trade that fuels the fighting in eastern Congo.

The ‘Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’ is designed to clean-up banks and prevent a repeat of the recent financial crisis, but in among its provisions is a section specifically on Congo’s conflict minerals requiring American companies to audit their supply chains to ensure that they are not using conflict minerals in their products.

Coming into effect on 1st April the new law is expected to have far-reaching effects from Wall Street to Congo.

In its own wording the Act, “Requires those who file with the [Securities and Exchange Commission] and use minerals originating in the Democratic Republic of Congo in manufacturing to disclose measures taken to exercise due diligence on the source and chain of custody of the materials and the products manufactured.”

Apple, BlackBerry, Microsoft, Nokia and other household name brands that provide the electronic items Western consumers rely on and covet will have to show what they are doing to ensure their raw materials are not fuelling the fight.

Gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten are constituent parts of mobile phones, laptops and other electronic goods. Gold is used in wiring, tantalum stores electricity, tin is used to solder circuit boards, tungsten makes cellphones vibrate.

All these minerals are found in large quantities in the mines of eastern Congo, many of which are in turn controlled by armed groups that levy illegal taxes and extract vast profits that run into the hundreds of millions of dollars a year.