RSN Updates

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Monday
Dec222014

The Conflict Minerals Law: Kickstarting Change in the Congo

This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Huffington Post.

The Conflict Minerals Law: Kickstarting Change in the Congo
IMAGE: Conflict Free Sourcing Initiative

Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection and Wall Street Reform Act — “the conflict minerals” clause — has attracted controversy concerning its effects on the ground in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the broader region whose conflicts the law intends to allay. Section 1502 was never intended as a stand-alone policy to bring peace and prosperity to Congo after two decades of conflict. The law has resulted in unintended consequences that must be addressed directly and urgently, yet the law has become a positive catalyst for change in the African Great Lakes.

The central criticism of the law is that it promotes an embargo — or at least steep price cuts — on minerals from the region. It is true that individuals and local economies have felt the sting of western companies’ policies to require minerals that come from Congo, Rwanda, and the region to prove that they originate from conflict-free mines.

This obstacle must be overcome to break the link between minerals trade and war. There is a significant reform process that is beginning to transform the minerals trade in Congo and move the region from a war economy to a peaceful trading zone. But we must not stop there — we also must join forces to help those temporarily displaced by the journey toward a stable and economically attractive Congo.

These challenges are starting to be addressed by forward-thinking companies, international donors, civil society, and governments. Collaborative groups like the Public Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals, the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI)* and the DRC Multi-Stakeholder Group.

There are real signs of progress on the ground: for the first time ever, DRC has validated 125 mines as conflict-free**, and the plan is to triple that number over the next year, with funding from a U.S. government-supported project. In stark contrast to five years ago, three-quarters of the miners of tin, tantalum, and tungsten are now working in areas free of armed groups, according to a recent independent study***. Those minerals were previously major sources of income for warlords such as Bosco Ntaganda “The Terminator” who is now on trial for war crimes. While the illicit gold trade is still a significant problem, the law has already helped to make life safer for thousands of people.

Another benefit of the law is supply chain transparency. Each of the 1,315 companies that reported on conflict minerals last year under Dodd-Frank rules mapped its supply chain all the way back to mineral smelters, the critical choke point in supply chains. As of December 7, 2014, 125 smelters have gone through rigorous CFSI conflict-free audits. As a result, companies not only have a better understanding of their supply chains, they now have the capacity to responsibly manage mineral sourcing decisions. Public reporting has also inspired a new level of conscious consumerism. While conflict minerals was once an obscure issue, conflict-free electronics and jewelry are now being marketed.

But more must be done. The Congolese, Rwandan, and regional governments must implement good governance at all levels of the mining sector and expand minerals certification. Donors including the World Bank, European Union, and others must contribute much more to livelihood projects in mining communities. Businesses must support responsible sourcing from the region. Investors must communicate responsible mineral sourcing expectations to companies in their portfolios and invest in the region. Civil society must oversee the progress and play the whistleblower when needed.

With a coordinated, focused approach among all stakeholders, Dodd-Frank will fulfill its potential of diminishing conflict while building a viable minerals sector in Congo that will assure its economic success.

This piece was written by Representatives of the DRC Multi-Stakeholder Group:

  • Tim Mohin, Director of Corporate Responsibility, AMD and Chairman, Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC)
  • Bennett Freeman, Senior Vice President of Sustainability Research and Policy, Calvert Investments
  • Patricia Jurewicz, Director, Responsible Sourcing Network

Additional sources cited above include:

*CFSI is an initiative of the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI).

**In November 2014 at the OECD meeting in Kinshasa, DRC, representatives from the Congolese Ministry of Mines stated that 125 mines have been validated as conflict-free.

***With contributions from Congolese mining cadastre (CAMI), mining service SAESSCAM, and representatives from local civil society organisations, European NGO IPIS visited mines an analyzed the security situation throughout the DRC. Results were published as a report and an interactive map in May 2014.

Thursday
Dec182014

2014 Uzbekistan Cotton Harvest Audio & Photo Update

2014 Uzbekistan Cotton Harvest Audio & Photo Update
IMAGE: Uzbek German Forum

With the 2014 Uzbek Cotton Harvest officially over, activists have begun to analyze the crisis. In this audio recording accompanied by photos from the harvest, Umida Niyazova of the Uzbek-German Forum (UGF), with the support of Matt Fischer-Daly of the Cotton Campaign, conveys data and stories from the 2014 harvest and talks about how it differs from last year.

In a nut shell: child labor decreased, forced labor of 17+ year-olds increased, corruption continued to be rampant, and transparency remained non-existent.

This year millions of Uzbek citizens were again forced to labor in cotton fields as late as November in order to escape the fees, foreclosures, expulsions, and beatings that befall those who don’t meet government-mandated quotas.

Thanks to pressure from the international community, including the boycott of Uzbek cotton by the majority of Western brands and retailers expressed through RSN’s Cotton Pledge, children under the age of 17 were largely excluded from the harvest. However, their teachers, doctors, parents, and older siblings were not as fortunate. With the drop in child labor, the exploitation of adults has seen an upward trend. More adults than ever were forced into the fields, with conservative estimates totaling three million.

Aside from an increase in adult field-workers, there were also rises in extortion, injuries, and death. The private citizens and business-owners who were fortunate enough to avoid field work were still forced to pay “cotton fees and taxes” to kleptocratic government officials. The bribes are deposited into shadow accounts that are kept off the books. A cargo truck crashed while transporting students to the field injuring 29, and 17 deaths related to the harvest were reported. Written details of the harvest can be found in the 2014 preliminary harvest report released by UGF and the Cotton Campaign.

It is a classic case of two steps forward, one step back. Although the most vulnerable are now out of the fields, tragedy, extortion and death continue. Companies and consumers need to continue to take a stand against this inhumane practice.

Tuesday
Dec162014

Jewelry Companies Targeted in New Conflict Gold Campaign

Going for Gold | Enough Project
IMAGE: enoughproject.org

As millions of dollars were spent on Black Friday last month by eager shoppers looking for a deal, the Enough Project launched a campaign to urge consumers to look beyond cost when considering their holiday purchases.

Since Dodd-Frank Section 1502 was passed, thousands of companies have put forth significant effort to undertake supply chain due diligence and commit to conflict-free sourcing of 3T (tin, tungsten and tantalum) minerals in their products. But, despite these efforts, gold remains the one conflict mineral (the “G” in 3TG) that continues to fuel armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Great Lakes Region (GLR) unabatedly.

At the onset of holiday shopping, the Enough Project has issued a new report, Going for Gold, highlighting the continued problem of conflict gold from the region and analyzing the efforts of major jewelry companies to source their gold responsibly.

According to Enough’s research, more than two-thirds of 3T mines in eastern Congo have become conflict-free due to efforts inspired by the 1502 legislation. On the other hand, gold continues to provide a major “financial lifeline” for armed actors. According to the report, in the DRC, an unbelievable 98% of artisanally-mined gold is smuggled out of the country. Using these illicit channels, armed groups sell gold into the global supply chain, and that conflict gold eventually ends up in various mainstream consumer products.

Since the jewelry industry is the main overall end user of gold, Enough surveyed the 14 largest North American jewelry retailers to assess their efforts to counter the use of conflict gold. Results concluded that Tiffany & Co. and Signet Jewelers came out as the industry leaders in addressing the use of conflict gold. The companies were applauded for “taking proactive steps to set up supply chain controls, contributing to solutions on the ground in Congo, and supporting the communities affected by mining and violence in Congo.”

Enough provides recommendations for other jewelry companies, such as instituting a company policy committing to conflict-free gold sourcing practices, and engaging suppliers on strategies to source conflict-free gold from Congo.

RSN urges consumers and investors to use this new information on the jewelry industry’s varying commitments to conflict-free gold sourcing in future purchasing and investment decisions. Consumers and investors have powerful leverage to incentivize companies to sourcing conflict-free from the DRC, and this holiday season is the perfect time to start exerting it.

Thursday
Dec042014

RSN Plans Spinner Verification Initiative to Disrupt Flow of Slave Cotton

This post originally appeared as part of the As You Sow newsletter.

A new effort from Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN) to verify spinning mills as being slave-free aims to drive the market away from cotton harvested with forced labor. Currently in the early planning stages, the Spinner Verification initiative will ensure that brands’ and retailers’ policies against forced labor in cotton harvesting are being adhered to by yarn spinners and textile mills.

RSN will be working with MADE-BY to undertake a feasibility study to benchmark Spinner Verification against other current initiatives interacting with yarn spinners and textile mills to determine the most appropriate way to harmonize the various efforts. The results of the study are expected to be completed by Q2, 2015. MADE-BY is an award-winning European NGO with in-depth experience and a thorough understanding of the apparel and textile manufacturing industries.

Recently, RSN’s Company Pledge Against Child and Adult Forced Labor in Uzbek Cotton expanded to include Tesco and Fast Retailing (UNIQLO), the world’s second and third-largest retailers, bringing the total list of signatories to 163. Signatories to the Cotton Pledge promise to actively avoid cotton sourced from Uzbekistan, where the government uses forced labor to meet mandatory production quotas. Preliminary statistics of human rights abuses during the 2014 Uzbek cotton harvest are now posted.

In addition, RSN’s Cotton Program will soon release an addendum to the Cotton Sourcing Snapshot, which was published in early 2014. The addendum will feature updated ratings of the 17 lowest-scoring companies reflecting actions they are now taking to avoid Uzbek cotton picked with forced labor.

Wednesday
Nov262014

Walk Free Foundation Estimates 35.8 Million People in Modern Slavery

Walk Free Foundation Releases 2014 Global Slavery Index

The Walk Free Foundation has released the 2014 edition of the Global Slavery Index, estimating the number of people in modern slavery in 167 countries. It estimates that 35.8 million people are living in some form of slavery today. This is higher than the previous year’s estimate, which found 29.8 million people in slavery. Although this could mean a real increase in modern slavery, the report cites an improved methodology that could account for the number being higher. In 2014, Uzbekistan and The Democratic Republic of Congo have both ranked in the top 10 countries with the highest prevalence of modern slavery.

Uzbekistan also ranks in the top 10 countries whose governments are doing the least to end slavery, and is the only country besides Kyrgyzstan that does not have a specialized law enforcement unit or team that is tasked with investigating modern slavery crimes. The Uzbek government is notorious as the organizing power behind the system of modern slavery that forces at least 1.2 million citizens to pick cotton for two months every harvest season.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, decades of instability has made citizens vulnerable to slavery, particularly in agriculture and mining of gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten. The connection between the revenue generated from minerals and the purchase of weapons that help to both perpetuate instability and exploit others has been well documented. Children are highly vulnerable to recruitment to armed groups and sexual exploitation, and 320,000 children are estimated to be working in artisanal mines.

Consumers have the ability to influence these systems of modern slavery, and the Walk Free Foundation recommends consumers check that companies have policies against forced labor or conflict materials before purchasing their products. It is also recommended that companies integrate policies and contracts to suppliers and sub-suppliers to ensure forced labor cotton and conflict minerals are not entering the supply chain at any point. Modern slavery continues to be prominent in the world and in order to diminish it, consumers, companies, and investors must take action.