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The U.S. law doesn’t ban the minerals trade with the area, something the United Nations has avoided doing as well. Instead, it forces companies to report annually whether their products contain any of the four “conflict minerals” from Congo. The nine surrounding countries are included as well, out of concern that minerals might be smuggled out of the Congo to obfuscate their origin.

If companies find that they use minerals from any of the ten countries, they need to have audit done to determine “with the greatest possible specificity” which mine they’re from.

Companies can label their products as “conflict free” if they manage to prove that their products don’t contain minerals that directly or indirectly finance or benefit armed groups in any of the ten countries.

Nicholas Garrett, a consultant who’s studied the issue with funding from the British and Dutch governments, worries that companies will take the easy way out and avoid buying minerals from the region entirely _ even if they are conflict free. He estimates that 1 million people are dependent on the mining industry in eastern Congo.

John Kanyoni, who represents minerals exporters in Congo’s North Kivu province, said business is already down because two major buyers of tin ore, Britain’s Amalgamated Metal Corp. and Belgium’s Traxys, have pulled out because of the “conflict minerals” campaign. That means miners, traders and the Congolese government’s tax receipts are suffering, Kanyoni said.

Lezhnev acknowledges that a complete pullout by minerals buyers would do more harm than good. What the Enough Project really wants, he said, is reliable tracing of the supply chain and certification of the origin of minerals. That way, buyers could still do business with legitimate mines.

“We don’t want (buyers) to disengage,” he said. “We want them to take a hard look at where their materials are coming from, but also contribute to positive change out in the region.”

Various groups have already started projects to trace the minerals back to their sources. The process is hampered by the lack of government control in parts of the region and by corruption where there is government control.

Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende said the government welcomes the U.S. law. It encourages the country to put in place the proper tracing mechanisms, he said.

Two years ago, chip maker Intel Corp. started to alert its tantalum smelters, who turn the ore into the metal, that they will have to start certifying that their ores don’t come from “conflict mines.” The process will add some minor costs to the supply chain, spokesman Chuck Mulloy said, on the order of a penny per part.

Tin industry organization ITRI is running a pilot project to see whether the ores can be traced, but much remains to be done, especially because U.S. companies could need to certify the origin of their metals as early as next year.

“It’s obviously a very difficult environment to work in,” ITRI spokeswoman Kay Nimmo said. “We need to have enough time to put the system into place. Otherwise, it essentially will be an embargo on the trade.”


Associated Press writer Patrice Citera in Kinshasa, Congo, contributed to this report.