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Artisanal Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo is both one of the world’s most mineral-rich countries and consistently one of the poorest. The mining industry makes up a significant part of the country’s economy with over 90 percent of its revenue coming from the export of these minerals. Many of these mines in Congo are artisanal mining operations; small-scale entrepreneurial operations that often exist in a legal and economic gray zone.

The Dangers of Artisanal Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo

While mining is a dangerous job, the conditions of artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in particular, are problematic. These conditions include unsafe mining conditions for the workers, a lack of rights for those employed in many of Congo’s mines, as well as permanent environmental damage coming from mining methods. Further, the unregulated nature of the artisanal and small scale mining industry can lead to the proliferation of issues like child labor and conflict resources.

A lack of appropriate safety equipment is an endemic issue in many mines. Many of the resources that miners extract is toxic. Air quality is a consistent issue and face masks are rarely available. Gold, copper, cobalt and other dust pose numerous health issues. Heavy metal dust can lead to respiratory issues, and one can easily absorb the fine particles of these toxic metals through the skin, causing numerous problems. Mine conditions are also dark and dangerous. Long hours and a lack of structural reinforcement in the mines mean that accidents are common and tunnel collapses are not infrequent.

Artisanal Mining Impacts the Environment

Environmental issues are also a great concern. Chinese mining companies are particularly egregious when it comes to a lack of environmental awareness. Many companies make promises to pay for environmental restoration for the area when a mining operation shuts down. Wastewater runoff, heavy with toxic minerals, often destroys the livelihoods of those that originally lived near a mining site. The environmental destruction turns once arable land fallow. Moreover, some companies intentionally mislead local communities about their impact, both environmentally as well as economically.

Can Artisanal Mining Help People?

However, one should note that artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo is not inherently problematic all on its own. Small-scale mines can help pull people out of poverty when they function properly and regulate efficiently.

An International Conference on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining and Quarrying occurred in Livingstone, Zambia, in September 2018. One of the key things that came out of the three-day event was the Mosi-oa-Tunya Declaration at the end of the conference, which called for the recognition and regulation of artisanal mines. The declaration stated that improvements must happen in general regulation to formalize and stabilize the artisanal mining industry. Amongst these reforms, a call for the improvement of the status of women in mines and for the reduction of child labor stood out. These reforms need to also consider the economic, societal and regulatory realities. The Mosi-oa-Tunya Declaration also called for supply chain integration to occur to help highlight the opportunities to eliminate money laundering and the exploitation of workers through conflict resources. Resource scarcity and ever-increasing prices for minerals also help drive reforms. The German automaker BMW partnered with the Swedish chemical company BASF, as well as Korean electronics firm Samsung and GIZ GmbH, a German aid and development organization. The companies engaged in a pilot program to push for mine reforms at a cobalt mine in Congo in order to improve efficiencies and consolidate BMW’s cobalt supply chain. If the program succeeds, it will expand to other mines and other materials.

The US Makes Legislative Moves

The U.S. made significant legislative moves to help combat the most abusive practices in artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo. While people mostly know the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act for its Wall Street reforms and various consumer protections in the financial services sector, it also has provisions surrounding the tracing of the most common conflict materials: columbite-tantalite, cassiterite, gold and wolframite, which are metals key to tech and jewelry manufacturing. While companies do not have to proactively and publicly make a declaration about the status of the sourcing resources, they must track the sourcing of these materials. If the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) request it, companies must also be able to provide proof that they did their due diligence to ensure that the resources used were conflict-free.

There is no penalty for the use of conflict resources, however, nor is there a ban from the use of minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some believed that this disclosure alone would create public pressure to move away from conflict resources from the region. However, after a 2012 ruling in a case brought by the National Association of Manufacturers, the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable against the SEC, the original mandatory disclosures significantly changed after it found that it violated the First Amendment. Indeed, manufacturers have to disclose that their products are DRC conflict-free if they cannot ensure a conflict-free status proactively.

Further, there are many academics and think tanks that study this issue. Tom Burgis, for instance, suggests that to fix the problems in artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other underdeveloped countries, Congo has to stop exporting its resources. He believes that only by keeping the resources within the country and shifting the country’s economy toward manufacturing goods made of those extracted resources, can the so-called resource curse break so that the lives of those working in the mines can become better.

John Dolan
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Restrictions on Presidents?

On January 20, Donald Trump stepped into the world’s most powerful position — the President of the United States.

Even after his inauguration, his transition into the presidency has been met with a series of controversies, one of which is a public call for business restrictions on presidents. Outside politics, Trump remains a real estate and business mogul. The dealings of his business are not merely centralized in America, they reach into nations such as Azerbaijan, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Indonesia. Prior to his presidency, no one voiced alarm to this sprawling empire. Now, it is a hot topic and, for many, a deep concern.

Why is there such a concern?

The answer is twofold. Business ties could introduce both domestic and international conflicts of interest for the president. Domestically, real estate businesses flourish under money given from the banking industry. There is a frequent “mutual interest” in lax credit and lax regulation, which seemingly opposes Trump’s intention to void the 2010 Dodd-Frank reforms.

Internationally, the Washington Post has reported that foreign diplomats are setting their sights on Trump’s new Pennsylvania Avenue hotel in order to attain the president’s favor. Later down the road, business entanglements could sway the president’s mind one direction or another in regards to economic and foreign dealings.

Isn’t there a law that restricts this?

Technically, yes and no. Business restrictions on presidents are looser than one would think. The conflicts of interest laws apply to Congress but exempt the president and vice president. Regardless, presidents dating back to Jimmy Carter through to Obama have taken all precautions by separating themselves from their businesses. All have used blind trusts, in which a business is sold and an unknown, unrelated trustee reinvests the procured finances into assets the president is unaware of. In these cases, business restrictions on presidents have been self-imposed.

Will Trump use the blind trust?

Legally, he isn’t bound to use it. Trump currently plans to transition management of the Trump Organization to his sons and has already placed all investments and assets into a trust. Along with this, he and his daughter Ivanka have resigned from all positions within the Trump Organization.

Trump has also agreed that there will be no new deals between his business and foreign countries, and all domestic deals will undergo a strict and thorough vetting process. And while profit and loss information will still be available to Trump, it will only be for the company as a whole with no specifics.

Is this enough?

No president has carried a multimillion-dollar business portfolio into the Oval Office before, which makes it more difficult for Trump to use a blind trust. However, while there are no constitutional business restrictions on presidents, any corruption of power, such as bribery or accepting foreign gifts, could lead to legal prosecution. All in all, only time will tell.

Brenna Yowell

Photo: Flickr