CANADIAN PERSPECTIVE: “Conflict”-ing interests

First it was "conflict" diamonds, now is it "conflict" metals?


First it was "conflict" diamonds, now is it "conflict" metals?


Followers of the mining industry can point with pride to Canada's contribution to the Kimberley Process that cut down on the trade of "conflict" diamonds. We are now assured that the money we spend is not finding its way back to rebel armies and human rights abusers.


The movement against "dirty" gold began gaining ground a couple years ago. Advocates want to stop the trade in gold from countries where its sale does not better the living conditions and economic outlook of local residents. This is difficult to achieve. Gold is the most recycled metal in the world. The ultimate source of the metal in the ring on one's finger is cannot be accurately known.


Now a group called Enough Project, an undertaking of the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC, wants to hang the "conflict" tag on minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo. War has left the Congo's infrastructure in ruins, killed over 5 million of its citizens, and created a million more refugees. No one wants to support a regime such as DRC and its horrible human rights record.


The DRC has an abundant natural resource base, including cobalt, copper, niobium, tantalum, diamonds, gold, silver, zinc, manganese, tin and uranium.


Is the idea of "conflict" metals a practical one? The world's consumers are heavily dependent on metals such as copper, and going without is unimaginable. There is also no way to physically mark metal ingots or cathodes as coming from a specific country because as soon as they are melted, the markings would be lost. Any paper trail or computerized log of a metal's origin could easily be altered.


Opponents of the "conflict" minerals designation have said it amounts to an export ban on DRC resources. And if the metals cannot be sold, thousands of artisanal miners will be thrown out of work, perhaps turning to crime for an income. An increase in criminal occupations can only lead to more despair.


There are other means by which we can support the people of DRC without condoning its government. Let's look to international aid agencies, responsible mining and education rather than isolating the country by refusing to buy metals produced there.


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