Is Your Cell Phone Funding Human Rights Abuses?

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Workers dig at a gold mine in north eastern Congo. (Photo LIONEL HEALING/AFP/Getty Images)

From jewelry to cell phones, global consumers are inadvertently supporting a trade in minerals that perpetuates horrific human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and surrounding areas.  But we have a chance to break this link – by using transparency as a tool to promote and protect human rights.

Last year, President Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  Within this landmark law is a provision that addresses an ongoing activity at the intersection of business and human rights: the trade and mining of minerals from Africa.

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Supporting California's Call to go "Conflict-Free"

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Last year, President Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  Buried within the Act is a provision that addresses an ongoing activity at the intersection of business and human rights: the mining of minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Section 1502, or the Conflict Minerals provision, essentially requires publicly traded companies to submit annual reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosing whether their products contain minerals from Congo or adjacent countries. If so, these companies must explain the actions taken to trace the origin of the minerals and whether they come from mines that help fund armed conflict.  While the Commission is still working out the rules pertaining to how exactly this gets done, the provision itself has received strong support.

Here’s why such disclosure and due diligence are necessary: armed groups perpetrating the violence finance themselves through trade in four main minerals – tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold.  These minerals are turned into metals that are then sold on to be used in the very mobile phones and laptops you are using now.  If we as consumers knew which products contained the minerals from these mines, we could use our purchasing power as a force for change.

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Conflict Minerals Legislation Becomes Law

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We were already ecstatic when both the House and the Senate voted in favor of a Wall Street Reform bill that included strong provisions requiring companies that use minerals from Congo to be more transparent. But now that President Obama has signed that bill into law, we can really celebrate. Companies that use minerals from the Congo in their products – like our blackberries, computers, digital cameras… – will now be forced to disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission the steps they’re taking to ensure they aren’t using minerals from the Congo that fuel human rights abuses.

While this is by no means a fix to all of Congo’s problems, it is a crucial first step in breaking the link between the minerals trade and the human rights violations it fuels. In the coming months, we will be closely monitoring how that legislation is being implemented, to ensure that it doesn’t get forgotten amongst the many other regulations and rules that will come out of the Wall Street Reform bill.

Between today’s vote in the House in favor of the Tribal Law and Order Act, front-page news coverage of Congo in the Washington Post and the signing into law of the conflict minerals legislation by President Obama, this is a great day for human rights.

Many thanks to all of you who took action. Congress supported this legislation because of you – because you let them know that you care about the people of Congo.

Time to Celebrate! A Victory on Conflict Minerals

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I woke up to fantastic news this morning. After a long night of compromise, at about 5:00 am this morning, Representatives and Senators participating in the Wall Street Reform conference agreed to an important amendment that will have a long-lasting, and positive, impact on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The amendment will address the devastating trade in certain minerals coming from the DRC, minerals that end up fueling armed groups responsible for human rights abuses in the DRC.

Ever since the introduction of the Conflict Minerals Trade Act (H.R. 4128) in November 2009, many of you have worked alongside us to help us ensure that Congress takes action to stop the trade in conflict minerals. A few months ago, over 20,000 of you asked your Representatives to co-sponsor H.R. 4128. And just a few days ago, you took action again, this time to ensure conferees wouldn’t strike important language from the conflict minerals amendment.

Until the very last hour of negotiations last night, conferees were being pressured to strike provisions in the amendment that require independent auditing of the minerals supply chains and penalties for those who would source minerals that contribute to human rights violations – provisions which are absolutely necessary for this legislation to work in the way we want it to.

But despite these obstacles, the outpouring of activism from AI members and activists helped secure this huge victory for human rights in the DRC. We couldn’t have done this without you.

Of course, the fight doesn’t end here. The Wall Street Reform bill still needs to be voted on the floor. And there’s no shortage of other issues to be tackled in the DRC: the harassment of and violence against human rights defenders, widespread violence against women, the pending withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping mission … the list goes on. But what this victory shows is that we can have an impact if we speak up.

Urgent Action Needed for Congo: Wall Street Reform Conferees Need to Hear From You

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Over the past few months, your activism has helped us ensure that Congress would act on conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo. So it’s great news that House and Senate sponsors of the original bills have agreed on great language to be included in the Wall Street Reform bill. The language would ensure companies are subjected to audits and required to disclose where the minerals they use come from – helping stem the flow of conflict minerals from the DRC.

AI mission delegates being shown coltan and cassiterite, Tchonka, Shabunda territory, South Kivu province, eastern DRC, April 2009. Copyright Amnesty International

But companies are pushing back, putting pressure on conferees not to pass the bill. We need you to make your voice heard. Members of Congress need to hear from those of us who support bringing an end to conflict and human rights abuses in the DRC, not just from the companies who don’t want to have to change their ways.

So take our online action today to tell conferees you support the Congo conflict minerals amendment.  You can send them emails between now and Tuesday to make sure Congress does the right thing for the people of Congo.

And if you have extra time, you can also call their DC offices and talk to their foreign affairs staff directly. Or find them on Twitter or Facebook and help spread the word about Congo’s conflict minerals.

Conflict Minerals Bill Snags Another Co-Sponsor

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Today, we celebrated the addition of a new co-sponsor to the Conflict Minerals Trade Act (H.R. 4128): Republican Congressman Edward Royce, representing California’s 40th congressional district.

As we have reported before, the Conflict Minerals Trade Act is a great first step in ensuring that the flow of conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo is stemmed. Conflict minerals play a large role in perpetuating conflict and human rights abuses through financing the activities of many armed groups in the region, and end up in pieces of technology you use every day, including the equipment you’re using to read these words.

Although the bill now has 30 cosponsors (in addition to Jim McDermott, the bill’s original sponsor), it is crucial to gain additional cosponsors if this life-saving bill is to make its way through Congress. Several members are in a unique position to provide strong and meaningful support to the legislation, including members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee such as Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida’s 18th district), Congressman Christopher H. Smith (New Jersey’s 4th district), and Congressman Mike Pence (Indiana’s 6th district).

But no member of Congress should pass up the opportunity to support this bill. And none of us should pass up the opportunity to tell them so.

You can take action online today and ask your Federal Representative to co-sponsor the Conflict Minerals Trade Act. You can also call your Representative’s DC office and use these talking points.

February 15-19: Take Action to Stop the Flow of Conflict Minerals

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Child labourers at a cassiterite (tin oxide mineral) mine in Numbi, South Kivu, April 2009. Copyright Amnesty International

Child labourers at a cassiterite (tin oxide mineral) mine in Numbi, South Kivu, April 2009. Copyright Amnesty International

Next week, activists like you are mobilizing across the country to push the House of Representatives to move forward on an important piece of legislation: the Conflict Minerals Trade Act (H.R. 4128).

The Conflict Minerals Trade Act was introduced a few months ago by Congressman Jim McDermott to improve transparency and reduce the trade in conflict minerals coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country where millions of people have died due to an armed conflict. H.R. 4128 would greatly advance the goals of regulating and stemming the flow of conflict minerals, thereby limiting the ability of armed groups to benefit from conflict minerals and perpetuate the conflict. This bill is a great step towards reducing human rights abuses and supporting peace and security in the DRC.

The bill is currently being reviewed by the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. It is especially important for the bill to garner greater support and more co-sponsors so that it can move forward and we need your help.

There are several ways you can get involved to help Amnesty push this legislation forward. We have an online action up on our website, where you can directly email your Representative and ask them to co-sponsor the Conflict Minerals Trade Act.

You can also use these talking points and schedule an in-person meeting or a phone call with your Representative. Next week, all Representatives will be working from their districts instead of in Washington DC, so this is a perfect time to do this!

This groundbreaking bill would enable the United States to take effective action to protect the rights of the people of the DRC by ensuring that the trade in minerals does not perpetuate conflict. Join Amnesty International and other organizations including the Enough Project next week to ensure that your Congressman or Congresswoman supports the Conflict Minerals Trade Act.