Conflict minerals are everywhere

The ‘conflict minerals’ campaign has been hugely influential, particularly in relation to the DRC. It has focussed attention on how the illicit trade in all sorts of minerals – such as coltan, cassiterite and tantalum – has fomented conflict and facilitated mass human rights violations. However, it has also helped to divert attention away from other mining-related abuses and from the reality that conflict minerals are everywhere – because everywhere you go, mining companies and their paid-up protectors in government are in conflict with local communities.

Richard Lee's picture

Author

Strategic communications for WWF

May 10th, 2013

The ‘conflict minerals’ campaign has been hugely influential, particularly in relation to the DRC. It has focussed attention on how the illicit trade in all sorts of minerals – such as coltan, cassiterite and tantalum – has fomented conflict and facilitated mass human rights violations. However, it has also helped to divert attention away from other mining-related abuses and from the reality that conflict minerals are everywhere – because everywhere you go, mining companies and their paid-up protectors in government are in conflict with local communities.

Just take the case of Kawama – a village on the outskirts of Lubumbashi. In 2009, the police bulldozed 500 houses without warning in retaliation for the activities of a few illegal miners at the CMSK copper mine, which towers over the village. 500 families lost their homes and all their possessions – even though none of them were involved in illegal mining. Needless to say, no one has been brought to book for this crime. No individual compensation has been paid. And no government minister has even bothered to set foot in the town to talk to the community, which is now planning to 'take the fight to court'. Sounds like conflict to me.

Or drive deeper into Katanga to the massive Tenke Fungurume copper mine. Freeport McMoRan has invested US$3 billion into the mine – the biggest mining investment ever in DRC – and claims to have carried out all sorts of corporate social responsibility projects. But talk to community members from Tenke and Fungurume and the picture is very different. They talk – angrily – about a company that does not put its money where its mouth is; a company that has done next to nothing to promote socio-economic development; a company that has no real desire to partner with the communities even though it be mining copper next to them (and under them) for the next 50 years. Sounds like conflict to me. Minus the shooting – but conflict nevertheless.

And sadly, it’s not just DRC. Copper mines in Zambia pollute the air and the rivers. Coal mines in Mozambique dump villagers in the middle of nowhere with few – if any – basic services. Police shoot dead 34 striking workers at a platinum mine in South Africa. Sounds to me like conflict minerals are everywhere.

Contacts

  • 1 Hood Avenue/148 Jan Smuts; Rosebank, GP 2196; South Africa
  • T. +27 (0)11 587 5000
  • F. +27 (0)11 587 5099