My search for green tin in the Congo

I am excited to be returning to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this week. My previous visit in January and February of last year was with a delegation aiming to analyze and audit the first conflict-free supply of tantalum from the DRC via the Solutions for Hope “closed pipe” project. The success of Solutions for Hope, which Motorola Solutions helped to found with AVX, proved that it is possible to source minerals from the DRC through a secure, traceable chain of custody from mine to smelter. This trip extends from that work with the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative (CFTI).

Tantalum is one of four minerals identified as a source of funding for a brutal civil war in the DRC. Armed groups control some of the mines and transport routes in the North and South Kivu provinces and extort money during transport across this vast country. The other three conflict minerals are tin, tungsten and gold. The main aim of this trip is to assess a pilot project that supplies conflict-free tin from a conflict region in a similar approach to the Solutions for Hope project.

Some people might question why a company would engage in a region with such a complex situation as a civil war in Africa when it would be much easier simply to source the minerals we need from a different country. It only takes one visit to the DRC to answer that question. The country is beautiful, rich in resources and the people are charming and welcoming. But poverty is extreme with 70 percent of the population at or below the poverty line, according to the World Bank, with millions of people caught up in human rights abuses due to the civil war.  It is just appalling that given the DRC’s natural resource wealth that the level of poverty exist.  It is important to the economic survival of the people and the future stability of the country that businesses continue to purchase minerals from the DRC, but do so in a way that ensures revenues do not reach the armed groups but are used to reinvest in the local economy and infrastructure.

In the U.S., The Dodd-Frank Act requires companies to disclose any potential sources of conflict minerals in their products by 2014. The unintended consequence of this legislation could be a ‘de facto’ embargo -- a large-scale withdrawal of trade from the DRC unless a reliable supply of minerals assured as being conflict free is established. That’s why it is so important that we focus on this now.

Why I'm going

This trip, organized by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, includes delegates from companies, including Motorola Solutions, industry organizations, governmental organizations and NGOs. We will visit and assess the Kalimbi mine in South Kivu province that has previously been identified as a green site, i.e. free from conflict, by a multi-stakeholder group. This was also verified by the NGO Pact, the implementing partner of the regional traceability program iTSCi.

Although not a formal audit, we have an experienced team who will look closely at the conditions of the miners and the chain of custody for ensuring the material will not be intermingled with conflict minerals from outside. Mines controlled by militia groups have poor health and safety precautions and frequently use child labor. It’s a condition of our involvement with a conflict-free mine that health and safety is addressed, there is no child labor and local education and healthcare facilities benefit from our involvement in the area. We want to see the provisions for community investment from the revenue the mine earns.

In addition to the mine operators we will meet local and provincial government officials and local NGOs. It’s essential that the project is widely recognized and supported to minimize the risk of interference and to provide assurance that the system is credible and reliable. We will also be assessing the scalability of the project because the current tin exports from DRC had been estimated to have declined by approximately 80 percent from the Kivu’s due to the lack of a credible system that could validate the material as conflict free.

It’s an honor to be involved in such significant work, and I am incredibly proud that my company is one of the active supporters. Provided I can get an internet connection, I plan to report progress from the DRC this week.

Image via Motorola Solutions