The European Parliament will consider this week whether to follow the United States by bringing in tighter controls on minerals from war zones, but critics say the measures risk being watered down.
Armed groups in areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo often fund their activities through the sale of precious metals and those used in electronic goods such as laptops and mobile phones.
The European Parliament will vote on a regulation this week that would force the EU’s smelters and refiners to use responsibly sourced minerals, while encouraging other businesses to self-certify their supply chains.
The aim is to ensure profits from the key “blood metals” – tungsten, tin, tantalum and gold – do not go to warlords.
It is inspired by the Dodd-Frank Act, a 2010 US financial reform law under which US companies must inform regulators if they use metals from DR Congo or neighbouring countries.
But the conflict minerals have themselves sparked a battle in Strasbourg, the French city that is home to the European Parliament.
Leftist MPs and rights groups want the regulation to be compulsory across the board, not just for the 20 smelters and refineries in the bloc that would be affected, and are trying to pass amendments to the resolution.
“This is now or never for us. It will be decisive,” Maria Arena, conflict minerals spokeswoman for the Socialists and Democrats alliance in the parliament, told AFP.
“We want to have a mandatory system for all of the supply chain.”
They face stiff opposition from right-wing lawmakers and pro-business lobbyists, who are backing the resolution as it is and favour a more voluntary approach to the regulation of conflict minerals.
“The voluntary approach will interest the avant-garde of responsible companies to participate,” said Romanian EPP member Iuliu Winkler, who is steering the legislation through parliament.
The centre-right could well have the last word. Last month, MEPs on the Parliament’s International Trade Committee adopted the conflict minerals regulation by 22 votes to 16, with two abstentions, but rejected a proposal to impose binding transparency standards on the whole supply chain for these minerals.