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California leads US in taking a swing against Congo's conflict minerals

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Scott Baldauf/Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) A Congolese miner holds a piece of casiterite ore, a kind of tin. Armed groups, including members of the Congolese army itself, control the trade in Congo's rich mineral resources, allowing them to keep themselves fed and armed. As a result, the West's insatiable desire for natural resources, helps to keep Congo's conflict brewing.

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On the heels of US Congressional action to address Congo’s conflict minerals, California recently became the first state to consider legislation to regulate companies doing business in Congo. Last Friday, California Senate Majority leader Ellen Corbett introduced groundbreaking legislation that would require companies seeking procurement contracts with the state to comply with federal law to exercise due diligence on their supply chains to avoid supporting conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and the broader Great Lakes region of Africa.

Specifically, SB 861 requires companies that file a disclosure with the US Securities and Exchange Commission about the conflict minerals in their products, to meet federal standards. If adopted, the California legislation would deny companies procurement contracts with the State of California for failing to meet the requirements of the rules promulgated by the SEC.

Last July, President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act into law. Section 1502 of the act requires companies that use minerals sourced from Congo or adjoining countries in their products to exercise due diligence on the origin and chain of custody of the minerals. The federal legislation requires companies to publicly report on efforts to ensure that their supply chain isn’t funding armed groups.

Both pieces of legislation aim to divert funds from the profiteers of war in the eastern Congo that have cost over five million lives. The mining of tungsten, tin, tantalum, (the 3Ts) and gold in the eastern region of Congo has long been funding armed groups and criminal networks within the army who often control mines and trade routes.

As the home of the majority of the nation’s technology firms, which use the 3Ts and gold in their products, California is a key player in the battle for conflict-free minerals. It is a hopeful sign that the state is leading the way and reinforcing the message the Dodd-Frank Act has sent to companies: that they must take responsibility for their products to ensure that they aren’t perpetuating war in Congo.

Talia Samuelson blogs for the Enough Project at Enough Said.

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