Church leaders hope Trump does not repeal conflict-minerals provisions

By Jonathan Luxmoore

OXFORD, England (CNS) — Church
leaders and organizations in Africa, Europe and the United States said it would
be disastrous if U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order telling
companies they no longer had to disclose whether their firms use “conflict
minerals” from Congo.

Western firms have been accused
of working with violent gangs in Congo to obtain minerals used for producing
mobile phones, laptops and other consumer objects, and of allowing trade in
resources to perpetuate human rights violations.

In the United States, the
chairman of the U.S. bishops’ International Policy Committee wrote the acting
head of the National Security Council urging Trump not to suspend the rules
related to Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act.

“Congolese die every day in
the illegal mines and at the hands of the armed groups that destroy communities
in order to expel them from potential mining sites,” wrote Bishop Oscar
Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, committee chairman. “The estimated death
toll in the Congo is the highest since the end of World War II. The
international community, including our own nation, nongovernmental agencies and
the church, provides emergency assistance to displaced and traumatized persons
and families — assistance that has real financial costs that do not appear on
the balance sheets of corporations.”

Bishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu
of Bokungu-Ikela, Congo, told Catholic News Service such a ruling would be “a
victory for big mining companies” and would “worsen human suffering.”

“Other Western countries
have since adopted more modest regulations, and we fear the consequences if
this law is now suspended,” he told Catholic News Service in mid-February.

He said if such an order were signed,
Congo’s bishops would work with church organizations in the U.S. and Europe to
have it reversed.

The 2012 Securities and Exchange
Commission ruling, required by Section 1502, does not prohibit companies from
buying such minerals, but was designed to force companies to disclose the chain
of custody of such minerals in an effort to keep them from helping armed
groups, particularly in Congo.

As with other executive orders
signed by Trump, a draft was leaked to the press. The
draft called for the SEC ruling to be suspended for two years and for the
government to review ways of breaking the connection between armed groups in
Congo and the sale of these minerals, often used in high-tech devices,
including cellphones.

Cantu noted that in 2011, Bishop Nicolas Djomo, then president of the Congolese
bishops’ conference, visited the United States to argue for strong and
effective regulations on conflict minerals. Bishop Cantu said people in Congo
saw the U.S. legislation “as a true expression of solidarity with the
women, families, and villages who have suffered at the hands of those who
destroy their communities to mine their resources.”

Cantu noted that “more than 70 percent of the world’s smelters and
refiners” for minerals such as tungsten, tantalum and tin have passed
audits showing they were not supporting armed gangs disrupting the local area. “Trade
in these minerals is now significantly less lucrative for armed groups because
the price for certified minerals is higher than for illegal, illicit minerals.
Thus, the free market is now working to offer the right incentives to encourage
safe and legal mining activities.”

Stefan Reinhold, advocacy
officer for CIDSE, a network of 17 Catholic development agencies in Europe and
North America, said “the trend globally, from China to Europe, has been
toward introducing guidelines on conflict minerals. We must hope this
encouraging trend continues.”

Anne Lindsay, a private sector
analyst at CAFOD, Britain’s Catholic aid agency, told CNS Feb. 16 that such a move
would contradict steps “now being implemented in 30 countries around the

“Too often people in
countries rich in oil, gas and minerals haven’t seen the benefits of their own
natural resources — and it was the U.S. which led the drive to ensure extractive
companies had to be more transparent,” Lindsay said.

“The U.S. provisions have
sparked the passage of similar transparency laws, regulating use of conflict
minerals in global supply chains — and international standards for businesses
are here to stay,” she said.

Congress has already passed, and
Trump has signed, a two-year suspension of another section of the Dodd-Frank
bill, which required oil and gas mining companies to publish what they paid
foreign governments in countries in which the companies operated.

Bishop Cantu had urged Congress to
reject the legislation.

Opponents of the Dodd-Frank
provisions said the disclosure rules cost jobs and put U.S. companies at a
competitive disadvantage, and had worsened, rather than reduced corruption,
violence and hunger in the developing world.

Bishop Ambongo Besungu said such
claims were theories invented by “big companies out to destroy the law.”

“What the big companies
argue isn’t based on any investigations on the ground,” the bishop told
CNS. “To say the Dodd-Frank law has set people apart, and pushed them into
poverty and famine, is just the version put about by big capitalists at the
behest of the mining companies.”

He said research by the
Congolese bishops’ Natural Resources Commission at Walikale, in Congo’s North
Kivu province, showed extraction of minerals had been “taken over and
militarized” by rebel gangs.

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Contributing to this story was
Barb Fraze in Washington.

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