Campaigning against ‘conflict’ minerals

The following article was published in the Caritas in Action column in the Catholic Times (UK) on 21st July 2017.

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 15.42.12The dark histories of some of the shiny items adorning our bodies has been popularised by recent Hollywood films and celebrity-backed campaigns. This has permitted the concepts of ‘conflict’ diamonds and ‘dirty’ gold to enter the public consciousness. But what about those other precious, and increasingly indispensable objects, found in our pockets and bags? The sad truth is that our mobile phones and other electronic gadgets contain materials that come at a hefty human and ecological cost.

Thanks to a campaign led by a coalition of organisations, in which Catholic groups have played a central role, the link between digital products and human rights abuses has been exposed. Through public awareness-raising events, enabling affected communities to speak out, and by lobbying politicians, the coalition has succeeded in getting the European Union to introduce legislation to combat the trade of illegally mined metals.

Many precious metals like tin, tungsten, and tantalum – vital for components used in electronic equipment – are mined in areas of the world affected by armed conflict. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is an example of a country that is incredibly rich in mineral deposits, but has been fought over by warring factions for decades. Whilst armed groups in the DRC do not mine the mineral themselves, they force local miners to hand them over for a fraction of the price that they fetch in the international market. The commodities eventually find their way into the international market, into products manufactures in other countries, before ending up on the shelves of our high street shops. A tragic reality is that international trade in minerals is helping finance human rights violations and accompanying environmental degradation in areas of the developing world.

Consumers here in Britain often feel paralysed by such information. What can we do practically to avoid complicity with such injustice?

Pope Francis’ encyclical on “our common home”, Laudato Si’, is a resource for engaging with this kind of dilemma. On the one hand it proposes radical solutions. Individually, the encyclical proposes an “ecological conversion” whereby we are to avoid getting caught in “a whirlwind of needless buying and spending” (§203). Pope Francis highlights the effectiveness of boycott campaigns, reminding us “purchasing is always a moral and not simply an economic act” (§206). On a macroeconomic level, the encyclical urges reform of systems to encourage less consumerist models of life (§112). On the other hand, Laudato Si’ encourages more subtle, incremental changes. In particular, Pope Francis encourages the work of civil society groups who engage with citizens and political institutions to promote the common good.

This Laudato Si’ approach has inspired British Jesuits to engage in the fight against conflict mineral. Through three partner organisations: Jesuit Missions UK, the Brussels-based Jesuit European Social Centre (JESC), and the Spanish development charity ALBOAN, Jesuits in Britain have lent their weight to a campaign that resulted in the European Parliament passing a historic law earlier this year. The legislation requires companies to carry out investigations (known as “due diligence”) to ensure that imported minerals are not linked to conflict or human rights or ecological abuses.

Whilst a regulation emanating from Brussels may seem very remote from what is going on in grass root communities both here in the UK and in the developing world, the Jesuits have tried to bridge the gap. Taking advantage of our global reach, we have been able to connect the experiences of those directly harmed by conflict minerals with European organisations advocating for action. For example, drawing on the experience of its partners on the ground, Jesuit Missions lobbied key UK MEPs and the UK Government, urging them not to water down proposals when they discussed it with the European Commission. Online resources have been developed for schools designed to create awareness among young people about the connection between everyday objects and the problems associated with the exploitation of natural resources. Mobilising individuals via Facebook and Twitter campaigns has also been instrumental in pressurising policy-makers to support controls on conflict minerals.

A central message of Laudato Si’ is the interrelatedness of our world. Just as humanity’s wellbeing is contingent on the health of the natural environment, so the (true) flourishing of economically affluent societies is dependent on respect for the human dignity of all. The conflict minerals trade is a good illustration of this integrated reality. The campaign, in which church groups have stood alongside secular organisations, is an example of how connecting various stakeholders can yield successful outcomes, and help combat a form of inaction which Laudato Si’ terms the “sin of indifference”.

The recently adopted EU legislation on conflict minerals is far from perfect, and its effectiveness will hinge on how it is implemented. In a post-Brexit world, UK citizens and Church group will have an important role to ensure the UK Government honours, and indeed goes beyond, measures agreed at a European level.

Henry Longbottom SJ

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Empowering mine-affected communities – Silveira House, Harare

Twanda Chamba SJ (left)

Twanda Chamba SJ (left)

Situated in Chishawasha, a rural district outside the Zimbabwean capital of Harare, travelling to Silveira House feels more like going on retreat rather than visiting a Jesuit advocacy office. In my experience, Jesuit social centres are usually found in nondescript blocks somewhere in the middle of a city.

But as my guide Tawanda Chamba SJ explained, the tranquil location of Silveira House is no accident. It is a poignant reminder of an aspect of its history. Tawanda is a Zimbabwean Jesuit currently doing his regency with this social justice and development centre. Silveira House enjoys a special place in the history of the nation since an initial role when it was set up by the visionary Fr John Dove SJ in 1964 was to mediate between rival nationalist groups during the country’s struggle for independence. Because holding meetings in the city centre or in townships was impossible, the neutral “hideout” location at Highfields was an ideal place to conduct political negotiations and peace-building.

Today the centre continues to provide a safe-space for deep reflection and formation in a post-liberation Zimbabwe, which faces new issues and challenges.

One major challenge is injustices associated with the mining sector. Silveira House director Fr Gibson Munyoro SJ together with members of the advocacy and peace-building team explained how they are working with communities who are affected by mines.

The peaceful setting of SH

Since 2013 they have been especially involved with two cases. The first is a community next to a black granite mine in Mutoko lying in the Mashonland East province, about 143km from Harare. The people close to the quarry have suffered greatly, including from the dumping of waste on their agricultural lands. The second is a community close to a coal mine in Hwange in the western province of Matabeleland North.

Silveira House has accompanied the communities by training local village leaders in advocacy and in how to assert their legal rights. The trust and reputation built up through the years has meant the centre has privileged access to different actors within Zimbabwean society.

Recently, Silveira House has focused its energies on the way in which Community Share Ownership Trusts (CSOTs) are negotiated and managed. CSOTs are the means by which mining developers attempt to demonstrate their corporate social responsibility. Typically funds are promised to local communities to offset social and environmental harms. But often the promises are not delivered, and the trusts are poorly managed. Silveira House therefore trains local leaders in how to operate the CSOTs. In addition to this grassroots assistance, Silveira House has been at the forefront of lobbying for legislative change to improve the CSOT system.

Through its work on mining issues, Silveira House attempts to integrate a promotion of corporate transparency and community development with that of peace-building and justice.

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A choking beast of prey – Mega Mines in Zambia

Fr. Chilufya in Kankoyo

Fr. Chilufya in Kankoyo

“A crouching vicious beast of prey whose snorts grow ever louder as if choking on its painful digestion of human flesh”. Thus goes Émile Zola’s description of a vast coal mine in his novel Germinal about a mid-nineteenth century coal mining community in northern France.

Under Zola’s analysis, if the vicious beast is choking, so are the people living in its midst. At least this is the case with two mining communities I experienced earlier this week when I accompanied a Zambian Jesuit, Fr. Charles Chilufya SJ, in some fieldwork examining environmental and social degradation caused by large-scale mining. We visited Kankoyo and Chingola, two townships situated approximately 50km north of Kitwe in the Copperbelt region of northern Zambia.

Kankoyo – sulphur fumes and unemployment

Kankoyo sits in the shadow of the Mufulira mine, smelter, concentrator and refinery. Producing 35,000 tonnes of copper ore each year, it is one of the world’s largest copper mines. When we arrived, the air was thick with sulphur and dust. The poverty-stricken houses almost touch the perimeter fence of the heavily security-guarded Mufulira plant. At one point, walking on the dirt road through the township, alongside which runs an open sewer, I found myself on verge of choking from the overpowering fumes emanating from the refinery. Meanwhile kids around us played, and the life of the residents went on.

It was a Sunday afternoon.

Mufulira is owned by Mopani Copper Mines, of which the global mining giant Glencore has a majority stake. Incredibly profitable, according to the European Investment Bank, Mopani has generated at least $560 million in tax revenues for Zambian government coffers since 2000.

           Kankoyo – life goes on

Why then do its neighbours live in abject poverty, suffering from unemployment and harm to health? Fr. Chilufya, who is student chaplain and a lecturer in business and economics at Copperbelt University, explained to me that problems of Kankoyo derive from the Zambian Government’s zealous embracing of Neo-Liberal economics in the late 1990s. With encouragement from international governments and financial institutions, including the European Investment Bank, previously state-owned companies like Mopani were privatised. Almost overnight, jobs and services previously provided by the state mining company vanished.

The new private companies rationalised their operations, recruiting many non-Zambian employees, automising processes and vastly reducing employment of local people. Communities of former mine workers, like Kankoyo, quickly became ghettos plagued by alcoholism and prostitution. The people of these towns see nothing of the mine tax revenues and they are likely to die prematurely from the effects of pollution because state regulators do not compel companies to improve conditions. The wretched conditions of Kankoyo are documented in a 2012 film “Zambia: Good Copper, Bad Copper” produced by Alice Odiot and Audrey Gallet written in collaboration with Stéphane Horel.

The complete failure of state regulators to enforce against mining companies who cause serious pollution was a factor that led us to visit Chingola.

Chingola – water poisoning and community action

              Joseph, James & Fr. Charlie

As with Kankoyo, Chingola is an impoverished township of mostly former mine workers. Close by is Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) which is held by the Indian-owned, although London-registered, company, Vedanta. In 2006 KCM spilled a huge quantity of raw copper, manganese and cobalt effluents into the Mushishima and Kafue rivers which supply water to households in Chingola. Thousands were poisoned, leading to serious sickness and suspected premature deaths.

Outraged by the KCM’s negligence and the Zambia State’s failure to act against KCM, the residents of Chingola launched a legal action. In 2011 their claim succeeded in the High Court, which ordered KCM to pay a total of $2 million to 2000 residents in Chingola. However KCM appealed to the Supreme Court. Whilst the Supreme Court upheld the High Court decision, KCM managed to persuade the Supreme Court judges to make it more difficult for residents to get damages by requiring claimants to obtain expensive medical reports. As such, to date, none of the residents have received any compensation.

Knowing a little of the background to the case, it was a great privilege for Fr. Chilufya and I to meet up with its lead claimant, Mr. James Nyasulu. James invited us to into his simple single-story house in Chingola. We were joined by Joseph, also a participant in the legal action, and another former miner. A family man, James explained that his chief goal in organising the case was to prevent future pollution, and to ensure basic health for his children. He expressed his sadness that the Supreme Court decision meant that residents were effectively barred from obtaining a legal remedy that the High Court had insisted upon. He explained that what grieved him most was the dishonest conduct of government officials and members of the legal profession throughout the case. He wants to continue in pursuing justice for Chingola residents.

                Polluted Mushishima river

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of Chingola’s situation is that KCM appears to continue to contaminate the Mushishima river. James and Joseph took us to see the river. Right enough, there were visible signs that the water was laden with copper deposits. Tree branches and grass next to the water were dead, and toxic foam accumulated against rocks.

Future involvement with Copperbelt University

Fr. Chilufya wants to raise awareness of the plight of Kankoyo and Chingola. His hope is to build a partnership between the students of Copperbelt University and the residents of these townships. This partnership would help raise consciousness among Zambia’s future leaders. At the same time, it could open up potential opportunities for university staff and students to undertake environmental and social analysis. The towns of Kankoyo and Chingola are “frontiers” says Fr. Chilufya, insisting that our advocacy should have the objective of allowing the voice of those at the margins to be heard.

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Artisanal Mining in Katanga – Arrupe Centre, Lubumbashi

IMG_0002What is a “conflict mineral”? The recently-approved EU legislation on responsible mineral sourcing defines a conflict mineral as tantalum, tin, tungsten or gold which originates from any region in the world affected by, and which is used to finance, armed conflict. Equivalent US provisions in the Dodd-Frank Act includes a wider list of minerals, but limits the conflict area to that of the Central African Great Lakes Region, chiefly the eastern Kivu district of DRC.

One of the many weaknesses of these legislative attempts to reduce the flow of conflict minerals is that they overlook the mining of copper and cobalt mostly carried out in the former Katanga province, located in the south east of DRC. Unlike the Kivu district, armed groups do not operate here. And yet, when it comes to the copper and cobalt mining sector, there are widespread social and human rights abuses. Although not linked to the financing of armed groups, these abuses nevertheless constitute “conflict”.

Père Jacques (right), Criso (left) & artisanal miners

I experienced this situation first hand when I accompanied Père Jacques Nzumbu SJ and his colleague Criso from the Lubumbashi-based Centre Arrupe pour la Recherche & Formation (CARF) on a visit to two small scale mines in the area between Luisha and Kolwezi. The quaint description of these mines as “artisanal” disguises the pernicious reality faced by their workers and their families.

I was shown how artisanal miners descend down a shaft of 30 metres deep and spend up to 10 hours a day tunnelling underground to extract copper and cobalt which is hauled up to the surface in baskets. The conditions underground are hot and workers have rudimentary tools and little or no safety equipment. Tunnels collapsing, underground flooding, and inhalation of dust means that artisanal mining is extremely dangerous. Above ground, life is harsh too. Women and children are often engaged in washing the minerals in nearby lakes. The mining settlements are grim shanty towns with no public provision of services, or schools. Alcoholism and prostitution are rife.

A strange paradox is that both of the artisanal mines we visited sat in the shadow of state-of-art mega-mines owned by international companies. Artisanal mines are often situated in concession areas granted by the Government to the mining companies. But in order to appease local populations, unofficial agreements are made between the companies, government officials, and security forces to turn a blind eye to artisanal mining activity.

The result of such such murky arrangements is that artisanal mining is unregulated and its workers have no protection. And the numbers involved are staggering. It is estimated that up to three million Congolese are engaged in artisanal mining, with a further 8 million being indirectly dependent on the sector. Human rights abuses are worse in artisanal mines controlled by unscrupulous businessmen who exploit men and women desperate to feed their families. Conditions are better where artisanal miners are able to organise themselves into cooperatives.

It is with these artisanal mining cooperatives that CARF is in the process of developing a project. The aim is to provide members of the cooperatives with a free training programme to equip them with knowledge and skills in safety, technical, and regulatory matters. The formation will use an industry-approved software and will be taught through a combination of on-site and online sessions. CARF is also exploring ways of how cooperatives can get a better price for their copper and cobalt which are currently sold to mostly Chinese dealers who pay for the goods well under the market price.

The hideous presence of artisanal mining in DRC is a product of destitution, bad governance, and an insatiable global demand for copper. The latter is only likely to rise in the coming decades with an increase in the use of battery-powered electric vehicles, which contain four times more copper than combustion engine vehicles.

Artisanal mines are here to stay for the foreseeable future. For this reason, CARF aims to improve the lives of artisanal miners by making their conditions safer and offering them training with the hope that they can eventually transition into the larger scale mining sector job market.

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Reactions to Trump & Central African ecclesial networking

Last month, Donald Trump indicated that he intended to issue an executive order repealing section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act, a provision enacted by the Obama Administration aimed at preventing the importation of conflict minerals into the US.

Henri Muhiya of CERN

What do civil society leaders make of this in Kinshasa?

I put this question to Henri Muhiya of the Commission Episcopale pour les Ressources Naturelles (CERN). CERN is supported by the DRC Bishops’ Conference and promotes a sustainable use of DRC’s natural resources. Its vision is that resources are used in a way that cause the least harm to the environment and protects human dignity.

Henri greatly fears the potential damage of Trump’s proposed action. He believes that the absence of US law covering supply chains of minerals from conflict areas is likely to benefit armed groups in Eastern DRC. This will lead to an escalation of violence in the region. Armed groups exploit illegal “artensenal” mines whose workforce consist of men, women and very often children, who are driven by poverty to work in appalling conditions. Henri points out that the knock-on effect of an increase in conflict, an influx of unregulated mining, and resulting political instability creates a situation which deters new commercial investment into an already troubled region. Companies who might have previously mined in a responsible manner, opt not to invest in infrastructure for the area.

These points were echoed by other DRC-based networks who were keen to emphasise that European countries must now redouble their efforts to effectively implement the conflict mineral legislation recently approved in Brussels.

Henri Muhiya also spoke about CERN’s role in a new pan-central Africa ecclesial network for safeguarding the Congo Basin called REBAC. Modelled on an equivalent network that exists in South America for the Amazon region, REBAC builds on paragraph 38 of Laudato Si which states the imperative of preserving the Amazon and Congo regions since they are “lungs” for the planet.

REBAC’s aim is to protect the Congo Basin

With the aim of providing a platform for coordination and strength among communities belonging to various countries in central Africa, REBAC also reflects Laudato Si’s central message of the need for an integral approach to development that transcends national boundaries and interests. Henri explained that one of the present challenges for REBAC is to get Rwanda and Burundi involved in the network.

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Reforming DRC’s Mining Code? CEPAS Kinshasa

The devil hides in the details, but very often he also lies low in the lack of detail. This is the situation regarding the laws and guidance governing the mining sector in DRC, which are weak and ineffective from the point of view of human rights, environmental protection and the common good. Recognising that a robust domestic legal framework is essential to bring about a fairer and more transparent mining industry, Jesuits and their partners have been involved in proposals to reform DRC’s mining laws.

Henry with CEPAS director Alain Nzadi SJ

Henry with CEPAS director Alain Nzadi SJ

The Centre d’Etudes Pour l’Action Sociale (CEPAS) is a Kinshasa-based project of the Jesuit Central Africa Province. Its basic mission is to promote integral human development through research and analysis.

By organising conferences, workshops and publications, CEPAS provides a platform for an honest exchange between civil society and DRC’s decision-makers. An example of this activity was its les journées sociales, which took place last week. This programme brought together members of various organisations, and CEPAS’s director Pére Alain Nzadi SJ welcomed Aubin Minaku, president of the State National Assembly, who gave a lecture on democracy and the public’s perception of the state.

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 13.21.39In addition to its publication of Congo-Afrique, a journal exploring economic, political and cultural topics, CEPAS produces studies and policy papers on a variety of issues. A subject CEPAS has devoted a lot of energy to over recent years is the reform of DRC’s mining laws. A decade ago, under the leadership former director Pére Ferdinand Muhigirwa SJ, CEPAS helped initiate a review of the DRC’s “Mining Code”, the corpus of laws and guidance regulating the mining sector.

Part of this work has been to scrutinise existing mining concessions by reviewing contracts with mining operators. Synthesising the outcome of research and dialogue with stakeholders, CEPAS has also put forward legislative revisions to make the Mining Code better able to respond to human rights violations, environmental protection, and a fairer distribution of revenue derived from mining projects. Most recently, in October 2016, CEPAS staff member Patrick Mavingo coordinated the publication of 12 raisons de soutenir le projet de modifiant et complément le Code minier de 2002.

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 13.29.27Sadly the legislative project to revise the Mining Code has stalled, and it is unlikely to be put before the DRC Parliament within the foreseeable future. A powerful mining lobby which profits from the currently feeble Mining Code has from the outset fiercely resisted any reform proposals. At the same time, widespread political corruption and links between politicians and mining interests have compounded an already lethargic response of the Kabila government to instigate and pursue reform. Present political instability and imminent budgetary and electoral crises have further overshadowed the mining issue on the legislative agenda.

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Jesuits against conflict minerals


This week yielded a breakthrough for campaigners against the importation of conflict minerals into the European market.  The EU has finally agreed to introduce legal requirements on companies to check their supply-chains.  Whilst the EU’s proposed regulations are not all advocacy groups like the Jesuit European Social Centre had hoped for, they are at least a start.  Below is a Q&A on the subject.  A bit more background on the Jesuit involvement is available in an article on the Jesuits in Britain website.

EU Conflict Minerals Regulation Q&A

What is the latest?

On 22nd November 2016, the EU issued a text for a proposed law (“regulation”) designed to restrict the importation of so-called “conflict minerals”. This is the fruit of years of campaigning by faith and civil society groups, including JESC. We have joined others in calling for the introduction of legally-binding obligations requiring companies to ensure that imported minerals are not linked to conflict or human rights abuses.

Why is it significant?
For the first time in history, companies will need to carry out checks on the origin of “3TG” minerals, namely tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold. 3TGs are vital for a range of everyday consumer items like laptops, mobile phones, engines, and jewellery. Many 3TGs are sourced from regions of the world, especially Central Africa, which are affected by deadly conflicts. A tragic reality is that the trade in minerals often helps finance human
rights violations. The proposed regulation attempts to remedy this situation.

eu-conflictIs it all good news?

Sadly no. The final version of proposed regulation is severely limited in scope and contains a number of loopholes which will blunt its effectiveness. For example, in contrast to the EU Parliament¹s more rigorous draft of 2015 that reflected relevant OECD Guidance, the proposed regulation applies only to imports of raw minerals. Thus companies do not have to carry out checks for components or finished products containing 3TGs. Another weakness is that the regulation¹s provisions only “bite” when certain volume import threshold are reached, meaning that a great number of companies will escape having to comply with the legislation. Further problems arise from the ability for companies to outsource their obligations to certain private industry bodies. Worryingly, inadequate mechanisms exist to scrutinise these industry bodies.boy-digging_400

When happens next?

The proposed regulation will be voted on by the EU Council and Parliament. Once passed, there will be a lengthy “phase in” period before the legislation must be complied with by companies. Early indications suggest the regulations won¹t come into full effect before 2021. So in the meantime, faith and civil society groups will continue to apply pressure on political leaders and business leaders to support further strengthening of measures to combat the trade of conflict minerals regulation.

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