Conflict minerals rules can promote both human rights and trade

Seb Dance explains why parliament's vote on conflict minerals is a 'unique opportunity' that has the power to influence hundreds of thousands of lives.

By Seb Dance

Former Labour MEP for London, Seb Dance was a Vice-Chair of the European Parliament's Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) and Deputy Leader of the UK Labour MEP Delegation

18 May 2015

It is an inescapable fact that many of the minerals and metals contained within the technology we use every day are procured from gangs, who use slavery and rely on cheap labour to increase their available income for reinvesting in armed conflict. 

I write this following an impassioned speech to the European parliament by Sakharov prize winner Denis Mukwege, who continues to risk his own life by providing essential treatment to women and girls in conflict zones who have suffered from the horrific brutality of war, such as rape and slavery. 

His words should make us all think about the priorities we hold as legislators. To ignore his fervent plea for action at a European level would be unforgivable.


By ensuring that we take action across the supply chain, we further bolster a key tenet of this commission's stated policy ambitions: that we achieve, where possible, policy coherence across different areas of the union's decision-making. 

If we view the topic of certification as a purely trade issue that impacts industry in Europe, we are ignoring the root cause of the problem. Conflict, poverty and disease are bred from desperation. Regimes that provide for a fair wage, decent working conditions and increased confidence from export partners are far more likely to escape these factors.

Mukwege is calling for our legislation to place a mandatory commitment on the entirety of the supply chain. Not only does this ensure Europe's action is not less than that of China and the US, whose systems are mandatory, but it allows us to avoid the mistakes carried out in the US, where the exclusion of small firms has led to a market that is unfairly skewed towards larger companies.

Every day, victims of rape and abuse sustained either at the mines themselves or as collateral from warring factions seeking to control mineral-rich territories find their way - at great personal danger - to Mukwege's hospital. 

His realisation was that without long-term change to the financing of conflicts in his home country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the numbers of traumatised women and children would only increase.

We have a duty to share this realisation. We have a unique opportunity as a parliament to vote to say that we value human rights and human dignity as well as trade. We can vote to say that we understand that our decisions have the power to affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for the better, and we do so without the false belief that we must offset the importance of life for the importance of trade. Both are possible.