Kinshasa – Global Witness charged on Wednesday that a scheme set up to certify the responsible extraction of metals from the Democratic Republic of Congo is being abused to launder minerals of tainted origin.
In a report, the British NGO said the most widely used monitoring scheme “appears to facilitate the laundering of minerals originating from mines controlled by abusive militias or that use child labour”.
The due diligence watchdog, known as the International Tin Supply Chain Initiative (ITSCI), is a structure founded more than a decade ago to ensure supplies of conflict-free and responsibly mined minerals.
It focuses on Burundi, DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, four neighbouring countries of the central African Great Lakes region where minerals often extracted by hand are in huge demand worldwide.
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The DRC and Rwanda “produce nearly half the world’s coltan, the main ore of tantalum, as well as large amounts of tin and tungsten ores — collectively known as 3T minerals,” Global Witness said.
“The metals obtained from the smelted 3T minerals are widely used in electronic equipment such as mobile phones, computers and automotive and aeronautical systems.”
However, large manufacturing firms such as Apple, Intel, Samsung, Nokia, Motorola and Tesla depend on a “failing” verification system, according to Global Witness.
“Furthermore, the scheme many international companies are relying on to source responsibly is also used to launder huge amounts of minerals that have been smuggled and trafficked, new evidence suggests,” the report says, pointing to “huge quantities of minerals” smuggled into Rwanda.
‘Conflict of interest’
Due diligence is also hampered when the Congolese army and rival armed groups vying for power in parts of eastern DR Congo have for decades viewed mines and minerals as “a vital source of income”.
Within the ITSCI, Global Witness finds a “conflict of interest” likely to hamper the body’s ability to do its job.
The structure is “managed by two influential associations of the tin and tantalum sector” which represent many “large buyers of 3T minerals”.
Some sources have gone as far as to suggest that laundering contraband minerals “is the raison d’etre of the ITSCI programme”, says the report.
Global Witness carried out an investigation in the eastern Congolese provinces of South and North Kivu as well as in Rwanda and concluded that the ITSCI scheme has “very clearly failed”.
The survey detailed how 90% of the minerals coming from “a certain mining area” in eastern DRC in the first quarter of 2021 were not from validated mines, while similar contamination in the supply chain was documented in 10 other locations.
“In some cases, ITSCI field agents would have accepted bribes to close their eyes,” Global Witness said, noting that the oversight body lacked the material and human resources to tackle corruption.
International companies too “must have known about these shortcomings for a long time, but obviously seem” to accept them, the report said.
When questioned by Global Witness, the ITSCI denied any contamination by minerals “contributing to armed conflict and child labour” and disputed any internal conflict of interest.
And international companies, the NGO said, “reaffirmed their commitment to sourcing from responsible sources”.