Conflict Minerals and Local Development Concerns

January 24, 2012
  • Marshall Chase

    Former Associate Director, BSR

Note: This is the second of three blogs highlighting the critical issues that risk getting lost in the rush to implement due diligence on conflict minerals. Our first blog discussed the local impacts of supply chain policies, and the next will explore the connection with global responsible sourcing issues.

In BSR’s work with companies on conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), we sometimes get asked why labor, environmental, and economic conditions are a concern, when the U.S. regulation—and even activists and the press—focuses only on the conflict. Yet issues like child labor, environmental degradation, and gender inequity are also tied to the sourcing raw materials from the DRC, and these problems will not be solved by an end to conflict, let alone the elimination of trade in conflict minerals. Moreover, companies are likely to be held increasingly accountable for such issues in their supply chains. And they’ll have good incentive to take action: By helping address these concerns, business can support supply chain stability and local development.

A recent report funded by USAID and published by the Eastern Congo Initiative gives an overview of social and environmental conditions in the DRC and the wide range of community-based organizations that are working on areas ranging from education, health, and human rights to youth, environment, and media. The report outlines issues that are rising in importance in the region:

  • 45 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 14 are involved in child labor.More than 43,000 children are working in mines, often in conditions that constitute some of the worst forms of child labor as defined by the International Labor Organization.
  • In some regions of the eastern DRC, only 3 percent of people have access to clean drinking water. Poorly managed resource extraction can contribute to this problem.
  • In rural areas of the country, 32 percent of women have no formal education, compared with 8 percent of men. Gender inequity contributes to instability, underdevelopment, and the gender-based violence that many conflict minerals campaigners have focused on.
  • Although deforestation in the country is happening much more slowly than elsewhere, almost a quarter of forests in the DRC are under logging concession. Peace, stability, and economic development are likely to encourage an increase in deforestation. This may include deforestation to support mining activities, or to export timber to Western markets.

All of these points suggest that, even if conflict in the eastern DRC is resolved, other supply chain labor and environmental concerns will persist. As noted in our blog last month, expanding the focus on conflict minerals to involve and support local people and develop flexible and comprehensive systems that can take these concerns into account will support greater stability in the DRC and company supply chains. It will also reduce overall supply chain risks and costs.

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