Congress Must Maintain Ban on Conflict Minerals and Oppose H. R. 4248

by Lucy Graham, Researcher / Adviser — Business & Human Rights Team

This week marks the latest in a long line of attempts to get rid of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act — a landmark transparency law designed to tackle an issue that links some of the world’s biggest companies to conflict and serious human rights abuses in parts of central Africa. As the current U.S. government continues to undermine efforts to bring much-needed transparency into the minerals sector, we at Amnesty International continue our fight to defend Section 1502 and we need the US Congress to defend it as well, by opposing H.R. 4248. Here’s why.

Did you know that your smartphone contains gold? Do you know where that gold comes from? What if the gold or other minerals in your phone connected you to a violent armed group or child labour?

Armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) generate significant revenues through looting, extortion and the illicit sale of natural resources like gold. These armed groups routinely recruit child soldiers and are responsible for horrific attacks against the civilian population including killings and kidnappings. Local exporters sell the gold to international buyers, meaning it can end up in products sold and used in the U.S. every day like jewellery, smartphones and laptops.

The link between gold and the conflict in the eastern DRC has been known for a number of years, as has the fact that companies may be exacerbating the conflict when buying gold. Despite this, most U.S. companies were doing little if anything to check where the gold in their products came from or if it may have financed conflict or human rights abuses. Amnesty International found a remarkably similar story when investigating child labour and hazardous working conditions in the mining of cobalt in the DRC — a mineral that ends up in the rechargeable batteries in our smartphones, laptops and electric cars.

Section 1502 has changed that, at least for certain minerals. It creates a legal requirement on U.S.-listed companies to essentially check the backstory of four minerals — tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold (otherwise known as “3TG”) — linked to the conflict in the eastern DRC. If a company finds that it is or could be buying 3TG from the DRC or certain other countries in central Africa, the company then has to make sure it is doing so responsibly and report publicly on the steps it takes.

The European Union and various African countries have also adopted “responsible sourcing” laws and recent Chinese industry guidelines set out similar expectations. Section 1502 is therefore a key plank of global efforts to break the link between minerals, conflict and human rights abuse. All of these efforts are simply about making sure that companies do their part to avoid fuelling conflict and abuse. The ultimate aim is to ensure that minerals bring benefit rather than harm to people.

Given that, you would think that all companies and governments would support this kind of law. But since Section 1502 came into force, some industry groups have been doing all they can to undermine or repeal the law, as well as the “Conflict Minerals Rule” that the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) was required to bring into law under Section 1502.

These efforts have, unsurprisingly, stepped-up since the election of President Trump. In 2017 alone, we have seen a proposed Presidential Memorandum to suspend Section 1502, a unilateral decision by the SEC to suspend a key part of its Conflict Minerals Rule, an attempt to defund the implementation and enforcement of Section 1502 as well as State Department and SEC consultations that appear to be part of efforts to undermine the law.

The current administration and some members of Congress seem determined to destroy a law that — by making companies be more responsible and transparent — is helping to reduce conflict financing and serious human rights abuses in central Africa. The latest attack is H.R. 4248, a bill currently going through Congress and which aims to repeal Section 1502 and the Conflict Minerals Rule in its entirety.

Amnesty International — together with various other organizations — is calling on members of Congress to oppose this law. We are also calling on the companies that use these minerals in their products to step forward and support Section 1502 and the Conflict Minerals Rule.

Here’s how you can make your voice heard too: Call your representative and urge him or her to oppose H. R. 4248.