GOP Congress Votes To Help US Corporations Hide Their Trade With War Criminals
Yesterday, the Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve an amendment from Bill Huizenga that allows American corporations to cover up their trade with war criminals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The amendment prohibits the funding of implementation of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act.
Section 1502 requires American corporations to either A) Document the measures they use to ensure that the rare minerals used in their products are not obtained from armed groups in the DRC; or B) Name the products they sell that include “conflict minerals“.
For years, the DRC has suffered from terrible fighting between the country’s government and rebel groups. All sides in the conflict have committed horrific war crimes, and all sides have funded their violence through the sale of valuable minerals to American corporations.
Human rights groups use the term “conflict minerals” to describe the materials that militants in the DRC sell to American corporations. Many conflict minerals, such as tantalum, tungsten, cobalt and gold, are used in the manufacture of computers and mobile digital devices.
Think about that before you consider buying a new iPhone X this autumn. The Apple corporation has increased the amount of gold and tantalum it obtains from places like the DRC by refusing to make iPhones in a manner than enables them to be repaired, rather than simply to be replaced. Apple has made only vague promises that some day, in an abstract future, it would like to recycle the valuable minerals found in its iPhones and iPads, rather than using conflict minerals.
Many of the people who drag conflict minerals out of the ground for companies like Apple and Samsung are children. The military groups that gain money by selling conflict minerals also routinely force children to become soldiers. These groups massacre entire villages, engaging in every form of terrible violence available to them.
An audit of the companies that have been completing the Conflict Minerals Reports required by Section 1502 of Dodd-Frank are manufacturers of semiconductors – the fundamental building blocks of computers and handheld digital devices. It’s the mobil phone manufacturers who have been applying most of the pressure on Congress to repeal Section 1502. The 16 companies under investigation by Amnesty International for their frequent use of conflict minerals from the DRC are Ahong, Apple, BYD, Daimler, Dell, HP, Huawei, Inventec, Lenovo, LG, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, Vodafone, Volkswagen and ZTE.
Corporate apologists seeking to re-establish open trade with death squads and rogue military officers in the DRC have criticized Section 1502. They’ve said that Section 1502 makes it more difficult for all forms of trade in minerals from the Congo, legitimate and illegitimate, to take place.
In truth, legitimate trade with mining operations not connected with human rights abusers in the Congo’s military or rebel militias has increased as a result of Section 1502. What’s more, trade in conflict minerals in the country has been dramatically reduced. Yes, American corporations have had to go through some paperwork. Yes, these corporations have been forced to begin to research whether the minerals they use come from death squads. That’s not an unfair burden. It’s in accord with basic ethical practices.
If GOP leaders in the House of Representatives were truly concerned with improving measures to reduce trade in conflict minerals, they would have introduced legislation to do so. That’s not what they did. The Republican Congress has done nothing to replace Section 1052 with any new programs to restrict trade in conflict minerals. Congressional Republicans simply voted to eliminate funding for the efforts that already exist.
When we see that the House GOP has destroyed measures that prevent corporations from gaining economic profit from war crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the simplest explanation makes the most sense: Republicans in Congress are seeking to help corporations hide their economic relationships with known war criminals.
Republican politicians are betting that Americans just don’t care if their smartphones and other digital devices contain minerals that were obtained through war crimes in Africa.
Are they right?
Is that what “America first” means?