Tomorrow sees a crunch vote in the European Parliament to tackle the deadly trade in conflict minerals around the world — an issue on which I’ve received more than a thousand messages over the past few months.
Minerals such as tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold are part of many European companies’ supply chains. But the international trade in these minerals has also played a role in fuelling conflicts in other parts of the world, with trade profits being used to equip armed militia and support corrupt officials in troubled countries such as Afghanistan, Burma, Colombia, DRC and Zimbabwe.
Many of the armed conflicts exacerbated by this trade are exactly the same conflicts that we’re simultaneously trying to help resolve through aid programmes, peacekeeping initiatives and other international efforts. In other words, by continuing to allow the trade in conflict minerals, we are undermining our own national and international efforts to stabilise these parts of the world.
On the other hand, if European countries act together to clean up our mineral supply chains, we have a great deal of collective clout. A draft plan of action to do exactly this is before the European Parliament right now, but — in Labour’s view and the views of our Socialist colleagues in Parliament — it is not ambitious enough.
The draft envisages a voluntary ‘due diligence’ scheme for European industry, essentially replicating the existing scheme within the industry and allowing companies to choose whether to opt in or not. We want to toughen up the proposed rules significantly:
- We want due diligence to be mandatory, so companies that use these minerals have a duty to ensure that they haven’t entered the supply chain in a way that fuels armed conflict.
- We want the rules to cover the whole supply chain, including products both manufactured and sold in the EU, not just the import of minerals and ores. This will close a possible loophole where conflict minerals could be processed outside Europe (for instance, being used to make a microchip in China) and then imported to be used in European products (for instance, putting the microchip in a mobile phone in Germany).
- We want the rules to apply to all companies operating in the EU, not just European companies — though taking into account the size of each company and its position in the supply chain.
- We want the list of potentially conflict minerals to be amendable in future, so if the world situation changes, it’s possible to add or remove minerals from the list.
Labour members of the Parliament’s International Trade Committee and its Committee on Development have been particularly involved in this issue, working with NGOs and churches to build a majority around this position. Although we have gathered support from many progressive MEPs, we’ve also faced an uncompromising opposition, not least from other British members — Conservatives, Liberals and UKIP.
We narrowly lost a first vote on the regulation in committee, but we could still win in the second and final vote tomorrow, when the issue comes before the whole European Parliament. We’re working on persuading other MEPs to support us, in order to broaden support for what we consider to be a principled and efficient approach.