Scientists evaluate efforts to curb trade of conflict minerals

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Scientists evaluate efforts to curb trade of conflict minerals
Scientists evaluate efforts to curb trade of conflict minerals

Over the past decade, the U.S. and other nations have implemented programs intended to monitor and mitigate human rights abuses and armed conflict related to mining operations around the world.

A new report co-authored by UCLA researchers has found that those so-called due diligence programs have fostered “meaningful progress” in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the countries targeted by the initiatives. But child labor and other violations are still taking place.

Tin, tantalum and tungsten are commonly used in computers and cell phones and a wide array of other electronics. In some countries like the DRC, those materials are designated as “conflict minerals” because the areas in which they’re mined are affected by armed violence — and in some cases, the violence is related to mining operations.

Researchers collected data in 2019 from 104 mine sites, as well as 1,054 households and 1,000 people living in villages around those mine sites, in the provinces of South Kivu and Maniema. They found that areas with due diligence programs see less interference by the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Compared to areas without due diligence programs, more than 50% fewer mines in areas served by due diligence programs reported a military presence or improper taxation by soldiers.

The study also found that, in villages near the mines served by those programs, the number of households reporting a military presence was 27% lower than in villages without the programs.

However, the analysis also revealed that mines in the areas covered by the diligence programs do not have significantly lower rates of child labor than those outside of the programs’ purview. Some child labor was reported at roughly one-third of mines, whether they were covered by the programs or not.

“We uncovered reasons to applaud these programs, but also room for improvement, particularly with respect to child labor,” said Darin Christensen, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. “Unsurprisingly, the due diligence program is not a panacea — it reduces important risks associated with mining in the eastern Congo but does not eradicate all harms.

“In better isolating its impacts, we hope to clarify where further efforts are needed to promote sustainable livelihoods and human security in mining regions.”

Christensen is the co-founder (with UCLA professors Graeme Blair and Michael Ross) of the UCLA-based Project on Resources and Governance, which led the study’s research design and analysis. The report’s other contributors are the International Peace Information Service, a Belgian research institute; Sub-Saharan Field Research & Consulting Services, a Kenyan research agency; and Ulula, a Canadian software and analytics provider.

International efforts to mitigate or eliminate the negative impacts of conflict minerals have focused on keeping the minerals out of global supply chains. The aim is to break the link between mining and conflict by identifying and boycotting suppliers who contribute, willingly or unwillingly, to armed groups or human rights abuses, according to the report.

This strategy is reflected in regulatory efforts such as the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act in the U.S. and the European Union’s more recent Regulation on Conflict Minerals. Those policies require U.S. and European companies that source certain minerals from conflict-affected areas, like eastern Congo, to conduct due diligence around the production and processing of minerals to verify that suppliers respect human rights and do not contribute to conflict.

But more than a decade after Dodd-Frank, there had been scant research on whether due diligence programs are improving economic and security conditions.

The report also found that areas covered by due diligence programs report a greater presence of government regulators.

Researchers found that the proportion of households reporting tax collection and services provided by the government regulators who are responsible for monitoring the mining sector was 58% higher in areas served by the programs than in those that aren’t. However, when households were asked whether they felt secure, there was no statistical difference in responses between those in areas served by the program and those that were not.

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