Pre-emptive bans on so-called conflict materials by Apple and Intel are proving ineffective as mining companies turn to emerging markets in Asia to sell their dirty goods.
Production of minerals which perpetuate conflicts in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo is continuing apace, despite the impending restrictions on materials like gold, tungsten and tin which will soon require western companies to declare the source of such raw materials commonly used in electronic gadgets.
Mining companies are simply turning to less scrupulous companies, many of them in China, in order to maintain the flow of cash and supply of weapons. “There is a de-facto embargo, it’s very clear,” John Kanyoni, president of the mineral exporters association of North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo told Bloomberg (opens in new tab). “We’re committed to continue with all these programmes. But at the same time we’re travelling soon to Asia to find alternatives.”
Apple and Intel have both signed up early to the Conflict Free Smelters Programme which checks that providers or raw materials don't contribute to conflict. The programme is a joint intiative between Washington and Brussels.
US companies will be required to sign up to the initiative later in the year but the embargo, which could directly affect more than 200,000 mine workers in Africa and beyond will not be global. The programme will not not be enforced in China and other manufacturing nations in Asia and the far east, but factories producing goods for US and European companies will - in theory - have to show where the raw materials come from.
The DRC is currently setting up industrial mining companies in order to cut the huge number of independent operations thought to be responsible for the vast majority of unmonitored or smuggled exports, poor working conditions and human rights violations.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila recently lifted a ban on mining which was put in place to crack down on 'mafia-like groups' which had made huge amounts of money from unmonitored exports, and put tens of thousands of poverty-stricken miners out of work.
Intel came under fire (opens in new tab) when it apparently resisted legislation to outlaw the use of materials mined in the central African war zone in May last year, going so far as to delete negative comments from its official Facebook page.
Surprisingly, there are no penalties for companies which continue to use conflict materials beyond the April 1st deadline, with legislators relying on the threat of negative publicity and damaged reputations as enough incentive to toe the line.