- 8 Dec 2016
- [International Secretariat]
- Topic: Business and Human Rights
The European Union (EU) has today taken a positive, but half-hearted, step towards cleaning up Europe’s trade in minerals. EU legislators concluded their negotiations on a new law on so-called ‘conflict minerals’—a Regulation which is meant to ensure that minerals entering the EU do not finance conflict or human rights violations. Certain EU companies will, for the first time, be legally required to take responsibility for their mineral supply chains and to take steps to prevent their trade being linked to conflict or human rights abuses. However, a string of concessions and last-minute loopholes could undermine the Regulation’s impact, as they exempt a large number of companies from the law. Civil society organisations, including Amnesty International and Global Witness, are today calling on the EU and its Member States to show that they are serious about making sure these exemptions do not undermine the Regulation’s stated aims.
“This Regulation is a welcome step forward,” said Michael Gibb of Global Witness. “But while the EU has sent a strong signal to a small group of companies, it has ultimately trusted that many more will continue to regulate themselves. It is now up to these companies to show that this trust is well-placed and well-earned; and we expect our lawmakers to act if it is not.”
The EU is a major destination for minerals, both as a market for raw materials and the everyday products that contain them, from laptops and mobile phones to engines and jewellery.
The Regulation will cover EU imports of minerals tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold from all countries in the world, and is the first mandatory law of this kind to be truly global in its scope. But while global standards on the minerals trade require all companies to check their supply chains for conflict financing or human rights violations, the EU’s mandatory provisions will cover only companies that import minerals in their raw forms. Companies that bring the very same minerals into the EU inside components or finished products are let off the hook. EU Member States also successfully pushed for the inclusion of a series of import thresholds that will further reduce the number of companies required to comply.
These volume thresholds are dangerous loopholes. They could let minerals worth millions of Euros enter the EU free of any scrutiny—often those with the highest risk of being linked to conflict. This new law can only be the very first step forward. Additional measures will be needed to ensure that all companies will and can adequately check their supply chains.”
The Regulation will not come into force immediately, with legislators opting instead to insert a lengthy phase-in period.
“Talk of a phase-in is a red herring. The Regulation reflects responsibilities companies have had for many years, and they have all the tools and information they need to comply. Now the focus must be on making sure they meet them as soon as possible,” said Michael Reckordt of PowerShift.
By itself, this trade Regulation cannot bring peace and prosperity to communities blighted by the resource curse. Civil society has therefore welcomed the EU’s integrated approach intending to complement the new Regulation with diplomatic and development measures.
22 November 2016
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