Today’s story has participants from all three Linnaean kingdoms: Congolese militias (animal), American business leaders who aren’t half as concerned with them as they ought (vegetable) and the components produced by the former and bought by the later (mineral). The name “Linnaeus” hasn’t come up for me since History of Science in first year, an experience I do not care to revisit. But that’s what happens when said business leaders won’t go the whole hog when it comes to conflict minerals.
A lesser-known element of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law concerns metallic elements like gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum, often used in consumer electronics and sourced from the militia-ravaged Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and surrounding countries. The militias use the profits from foreign sales of these minerals to finance unimaginable abuses, child labor and rape among them. Interestingly, the provision of Dodd-Frank requiring companies to disclose their use of these minerals was the work of then-Sen. and current Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS).
Earlier in the year, The Hill reported on the labyrinth companies have to go through to satisfy the requirement. Every outcome involves filing a new type of report with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and at one point paying to have their findings validated. It’s hard not to sympathize with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers when they call this “burdensome.”
And it’s true that all of this disclosure would do little to stop the militias, especially when you consider that the SEC would have no authority to penalize companies that use conflict minerals. However, the companies’ failure to commit not to use those minerals at all speaks volumes, on the same level of Congress’s failure to crack down on this use in a real way. Like most bureaucracy, this law amounts to large, expensive piles of paperwork that ultimately benefit nobody.
The two Republican SEC commissioners dissented from the original provision, claiming it would amount to an embargo against the DRC. So? The ore from which these metals are sourced can be found in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bolivia, Portugal, Thailand, South Korea, Russia, China and even the good old U.S. of A. Why pass them over for the DRC?
If we’re going to make any company pay extra to avoid using conflict minerals, let’s forget the paperwork and outright ban minerals from countries that can’t or won’t clean out their militias. But for the U.S. to be consistent on this, they’ll have to spearhead an international effort to wipe out the “conflict” of these minerals for good. Americans’ inability to profit from it might spare us some guilt, but not much else.