By Cécile Barbière
MEPs today (16 March) adopted a new law obliging importers of minerals to ensure that their business does not contribute to armed conflicts in certain areas of the world. EURACTIV France reports.
After two and a half years of debate, the European Parliament on Thursday definitively adopted the new rules on mineral imports from conflict zones, which will come into force in 2021.
This new law, which will apply across all EU member states, will oblige importers of tungsten, tantalum, tin and gold to ensure their supply chains are not linked to armed conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or in Africa’s Great Lakes region, where mines are often controlled by armed groups.
Binding traceability requirement
All European importers, from refineries to foundries, will be bound by this duty of care, with the exception of very small operations.
“Tungsten, tantalum, tin and gold are used in many objects like telephones and cars. We cannot allow the minerals that make up our everyday objects to be fund conflicts. It was urgent to put an end to this situation,” said French MEPs Tokia Saïfi and Franck Proust (EPP group).
The text, which sparked intense debate in the European Parliament, is seen as a real step forward in product traceability and the fight against armed conflicts. But despite being binding, the law will neither apply to the whole supply chain, nor will it cover all importers.
Certain shortcomings, like the fact that manufactured products will not be subject to the traceability requirements, have left loopholes in the system.
Green MEP Yannick Jadot highlighted the problems posed by the “downstream businesses” that manufacture tablets or smartphones using some of the materials targeted under this law. “During the law’s passage through Parliament, we managed to get the duty of care extended to cover all the actors in the chain. But this was dropped during the trialogue negotiations,” he said.
“But we managed to obtain a revision clause that will allow us to extend the law in the future,” he added.
Dodd-Frank law up in the air
Another shortcoming highlighted by Amnesty International is the law’s narrow scope. “This law only covers four minerals and omits other resources, like cobalt, which can be linked to serious human rights violations. We now expect the European Union to strengthen this legislation to make it binding on a larger number of businesses,” the NGO stated.
The timing of today’s vote is significant. US President Donald Trump in February announced his intention to review some of the provisions of the Dodd-Frank law, which governs mineral imports to the US and on which the EU’s own law is based.
“At a time when the United States is stepping back, with President Trump announcing he will unpick the Dodd-Frank law, it is vital for Europe to put its foot down on the issue of the corporate responsibility of muntinationals,” said socialist MEP Emmanuel Maurel.
This article was published on Euractiv's website on March 16, 2017.