With Conflict Minerals Law Passed, What Can Indonesian Tin Mining Teach Us?

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We have written extensively of late on the Dodd-Frank legislation Section 1502, better known as the act covering the sourcing of what are known as “Conflict Minerals,” largely from the perspective of the impact on firms directly and indirectly involved in consuming metals at some point in their supply chain.

Check out MetalMiner’s Conflict Minerals Legislative Guide for expert analysis and commentary.

Setting aside the huge cost and bureaucratic burden the act could impose on business, the ethics behind the legislation have much to commend them – directed as they are in depriving any party benefiting from the lawless disaster that has existed for years in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The act extends reporting requirements to metals supplied from all of the DRC’s surrounding states, recognizing that illegal mining and smuggling of minerals is rife in that part of the world and closing the door on DRC-sourced minerals would not solve the problem.

Not that all metals sourced from the DRC are deemed unacceptable — many international mining operations operate world-class operations; the act seeks to separate these desirable legal entities from the illegal activities of the warring factions.

But the success in bringing the legislation into law raises the question: Where next?

Indeed, if it is appropriate for the US to apply such controls on minerals sourced from the DRC, why would it not be appropriate to apply similar controls on minerals deemed to be sourced from other areas of the world where slave labor is employed in all but name, and widespread human rights abuses could be said to be perpetrated as a result of — or in conjunction with — illegal mining activities.

Systems put in place to meet the requirements of the new legislation would work equally well for all sourced metals, and while we are not making the argument that other parts of the world should be swept into the same supply controls, we are raising the suggestion that, in time, they could be.

Take Indonesian tin mining, for example.

A lengthy article in Businessweek spends far too much time roping Apple into the issues of sourcing tin solders responsibly (as if the firm is somehow responsible for all the abuses perpetrated in Indonesia’s illegal mines), but that aside, the article also explores in some detail the horrifically high mortality rates among illegal miners who often have no alternative source of subsistence.

Nor is the illegal element as peripheral as one might think. In spite of laws to the contrary, a very significant proportion of Indonesian tin comes from illegal or unlicensed mines, yet enjoys the widespread support of local government officials and even the complicity of legal mining companies’ corrupt middle- and lower management.

Does this constitute a conflict mineral?

In the DRC, yes, clearly their armed conflict is very much a part of the near-slave-labor conditions used to extract cassiterite, tin-bearing ore and other minerals, but in Indonesia there is no conflict taking place.

Does that make the suffering and loss of life endured by miners any more morally justifiable? Future legislators may not think so.

Comments (2)

  1. For the self-focused American politicians and fund raising NGO activists – real people on the other end of this nonsense are starving and dying, and the militia are flourishing, both because of Dodd-Frank. This legislation is perhaps the greatest proactive tragedy committed against Africa by the west in a hundred years.

    We are a Congolese-owned social enterprise mining company working with Chiefs and their tribes in the Congo. We provide a well documented and transparent path via an OECD compliant process. We have hundreds tons of coltan, but because of Dodd-Frank, there is a 100% embargo of legitimate artisanal mineral sales, throughout all of central Africa.

    We have challenged every supporting organizaiton of Dodd-Frank to find just one legitimate buyer for these tribes. It has been 463 days now that these tribes are unable to make a living. 400,000 miners are now out of work, affecting 1 million people who depend on them for a living in the conflict area, and 10 million who depend on mining throughout the Congo (World Bank). Diseases only associated with starvation (Kwashiorkor) are now cropping up.

    The history of legislation like Dodd-Frank which focus on symptoms instead of causes, is abysmal. Dodd-Frank uses the random hope strategy of legislation that assumes if you remove one source of revenue from a burglar, that the burglar will stop stealing – a profoundly naïve assumption. If a burglar steals from houses, we’ll just burn the houses down. Surely making it harder for the burglar to steal will reform the burglar and turn him into a law-abiding citizen.

    Dodd-Frank has burned down the entire mining industry of 10 million Congolese in the random hope that it might catch a militia or two in its path. What is the result? Legitimate artisanal mining exports are 100% embargoed – nothing is moving. We know this because we represent these artisans and not a single smelter anywhere in the world is willing to buy these minerals.

    The majority of Dodd-Frank minerals don’t even come from the relatively small conflict area in the Congo, yet all of central Africa is being punished in hopes of reforming this militia.

    How are the militia doing? The UN Panel of Experts and even Global Witness say smuggling by militia is documented to have increased significantly since Dodd-Frank. The burglar is doing just fine.

    Dodd-Frank has a predecessor that didn’t work, either. Dodd-Frank is being modeled after the Kimberley process, designed to stop militia from smuggling diamonds in Sierra Leone. Five years after it was implemented, studies showed massive fraud on a world-wide scale, and the militia were still doing just fine. Only a British military operation cleared them out. Global Witness, a founding member of Kimberley and a main proponent of Dodd-Frank, pulled out of the Kimberley process in November 2011 because, after 10 years, it still wasn’t working. Yet they think Dodd-Frank should move ahead.

    Dodd-Frank will have the exact same result, because as with Kimberley, it refuses to recognize that minerals are not the problem, criminals are the problem. Law-abiding miners are already being devastated by Dodd-Frank, the militia is better off than ever, and, as with Kimberley, the only thing that will rid us of them is a military operation.

    The Dodd-Frank groupies that don’t live there are all re-arranging deck chairs while the ship of the Congolese economy is burned and sunk by this disastrous law. They ignore history and plunge clumsily forward.

    As Eric Kajemba, the leader of a Congolese civil-society group has said, “If the advocacy groups aren’t speaking for the people of eastern Congo, whom are they speaking for?”

    And as Aloys Tegera of the Pole Institute in Goma says, “They picked the wrong target.”

    Target the militia. They are the problem, not minerals.

  2. For the self-focused American politicians and fund raising NGO activists – real people on the other end of this nonsense are starving and dying, and the militia are flourishing, both because of Dodd-Frank. This legislation is perhaps the greatest proactive tragedy committed against Africa by the west in a hundred years.

    We are a Congolese-owned social enterprise mining company working with Chiefs and their tribes in the Congo. We provide a well documented and transparent path via an OECD compliant process. We have hundreds tons of coltan, but because of Dodd-Frank, there is a 100% embargo of legitimate artisanal mineral sales, throughout all of central Africa.

    We have challenged every supporting organizaiton of Dodd-Frank to find just one legitimate buyer for these tribes. It has been two years now, since passage of Dodd-Frank, that these tribes are unable to make a living. 400,000 miners are now out of work, affecting 1 million people who depend on them for a living in the conflict area, and 10 million who depend on mining throughout the Congo (World Bank). Diseases only associated with starvation (Kwashiorkor) are now cropping up.

    The history of legislation like Dodd-Frank which focus on symptoms instead of causes, is abysmal. Dodd-Frank uses the random hope strategy of legislation that assumes if you remove one source of revenue from a burglar, that the burglar will stop stealing – a profoundly naïve assumption. If a burglar steals from houses, we’ll just burn the houses down. Surely making it harder for the burglar to steal will reform the burglar and turn him into a law-abiding citizen.

    Dodd-Frank has burned down the entire mining industry of 10 million Congolese in the random hope that it might catch a militia or two in its path. What is the result? Legitimate artisanal mining exports are 100% embargoed – nothing is moving. We know this because we represent these artisans and not a single smelter anywhere in the world is willing to buy these minerals.

    The majority of Dodd-Frank minerals don’t even come from the relatively small conflict area in the Congo, yet all of central Africa is being punished in hopes of reforming this militia.

    How are the militia doing? The UN Panel of Experts and even Global Witness say smuggling by militia is documented to have increased significantly since Dodd-Frank. The burglar is doing just fine.

    Dodd-Frank has a predecessor that didn’t work, either. Dodd-Frank is being modeled after the Kimberley process, designed to stop militia from smuggling diamonds in Sierra Leone. Five years after it was implemented, studies showed massive fraud on a world-wide scale, and the militia were still doing just fine. Only a British military operation cleared them out. Global Witness, a founding member of Kimberley and a main proponent of Dodd-Frank, pulled out of the Kimberley process in November 2011 because, after 10 years, it still wasn’t working. Yet they think Dodd-Frank should move ahead.

    Dodd-Frank will have the exact same result, because as with Kimberley, it refuses to recognize that minerals are not the problem, criminals are the problem. Law-abiding miners are already being devastated by Dodd-Frank, the militia is better off than ever, and, as with Kimberley, the only thing that will rid us of them is a military operation.

    The Dodd-Frank groupies that don’t live there are all re-arranging deck chairs while the ship of the Congolese economy is burned and sunk by this disastrous law. They ignore history and plunge clumsily forward.

    As Eric Kajemba, the leader of a Congolese civil-society group has said, “If the advocacy groups aren’t speaking for the people of eastern Congo, whom are they speaking for?”

    And as Aloys Tegera of the Pole Institute in Goma says, “They picked the wrong target.”

    Target the militia. They are the problem, not minerals.

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