In February 2012, as the mineral-rich Kivu provinces in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo were descending into fighting once again, the Congolese government issued a law intended to help break the links between conflict, human rights abuses and the minerals trade. This law requires all tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold mining and mineral trading companies to conduct checks, known as due diligence, on their supply chains. These checks aim to ensure that the minerals they trade have not provided armed groups the incentive or revenue to fight, or fuelled human rights abuses.
Artisanal miners pan for gold at the Mufa II gold mining site in South Kivu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Credit: Phil Moore
One key element of this law is the publication of an annual report on the measures taken by the company to identify and mitigate supply chain risks. When dealing with high-risk supply chains, like some of those in eastern Congo, companies must identify and address supply chain red flags that they find and then write about these in their annual reporting. Such reports provide assurance to the public - and indeed proof to the regulators and business partners - that the company is meeting its responsibilities.
To this day, few companies in Congo are meeting the minimum standards of the law and the government doesn't appear to be doing much about it. Take South Kivu province - our research shows that none of the six official artisanal gold trading houses published due diligence reports for 2014 or 2015.
Of course, the Congolese government has a responsibility to uphold its law. It has also endorsed the international standard on supply chain due diligence, the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas, giving it a double responsibility to ensure companies are carrying out checks on their supply chains.
The Congolese government has repeatedly committed to collecting companies' supply chain reports and publishing them on its Ministry of Mines' website. This would be a positive step. Centralising these reports would make it easier for those buying and trading Congo's minerals - including companies in the U.S., Europe and China - to scrutinise their supply chains. It would highlight which companies operating in Congo have submitted reports and which have not. It would also clearly reveal where the quality of company reporting is still inadequate. Finally, by publishing reports side-by-side where they can be compared and scrutinised, those Congo-based companies that are lagging behind would be incentivised to up their game.
Alas, in the four years since this law has been in force, only very incremental progress has been made in its enforcement. In May 2012, the government suspended two North Kivu-based minerals traders, TTT Mining and Huaying Trading Company, for failing to do due diligence. Since then, we are not aware of any companies being held to account by the government either for inadequate reporting or for failure to comply with the law.
The Mufa artisanal gold mining site amidst the hills of South Kivu in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Credit: Phil Moore
More recently and in response to our latest report River of Gold, the national Mines Minister publically called for a "thorough clean-up" of the artisanal mining sector - a move we welcomed. An independent investigation team was subsequently sent to Shabunda in South Kivu to verify our findings, which led to four of the individuals named in our report being taken to Kinshasa for questioning. We are yet to see whether this will materialise into any formal sanctions.
Some Congo-based companies seem to be unaware of the country's due diligence law, others are just choosing not to comply. Both are unacceptable. The director of Bukavu-based Cavichi, a company known to have bought gold from Shabunda, told us that "all the company's operations are done with strict respect for Congolese law." Yet, Cavichi doesn't appear to conduct any supply chain due diligence, let alone publish an annual report.
Either way, until the government enforces its own supply chain legislation, impunity will reign - companies will continue to operate outside the law and their minerals will continue to fund or incentivise violent conflict or human rights abuses.
Global Witness isn't the only organisation concerned by state failures to comply with the public reporting requirement of the OECD standard. In May this year 45 civil society groups signed a statement demanding states meet their commitment to ensure that companies operating in or from their territories implement the OECD Guidance.
It's crucial that the Congolese government enforces its law and ensures that companies operating in its minerals sector take full responsibility for their supply chains, manage them to international standards and publicly report on this annually. The government should also follow-up on its promise to publish companies' due diligence reports as a matter of urgency. Failure to act on these counts undermines years of international and Congolese efforts to break the links between minerals, conflict and human rights abuses. The people of Congo deserve to benefit from the minerals beneath their feet, not suffer because of them.