European lawmakers voted on March 16 in favor of a resolution that would make EU electronics manufacturers to take responsibility for the origin of the minerals they import.
High-tech equipment such as smartphones, tablets and cars are able to run thanks to minerals and metals such as tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold, however, as their mining and illegal trade are often controlled by armed groups, they also help to feed a vicious circle of conflicts, said EU Members of Parliament (MEPs).
According to resolution author Iuliu Winkler, a Romanian member of the EPP group, “As the European Parliament we have the responsibility to break the link between the trade of minerals, which are very important for our industries, and the financing of conflicts.”
The regulation concerns tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold and applies to all conflict-affected and high-risk areas in the world, of which the most obvious examples are the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes region.
Products that use these minerals and metals includes jewellery as well as many high-tech devices created by the automotive, electronics, aerospace, packaging, construction, lighting, industrial machinery and tooling industries.
After negotiating with the EU Council and Commission since July 2015, MEPs have achieved their two main objectives:
- Make checks binding for smelters, refiners, and importers of minerals and metals. Only the smallest EU importers such as dentists or jewelers will be exempt from this obligation.
- The country of origin will not be the only indicator of risk as MEPs have also added information on transit or an irresponsible supplier as reasons to trigger a background check.
Belgian S&D member Maria Arena, who followed the negotiations on behalf of her group, said, “Our goal is to ensure that the entire chain is clean … all the way to the companies that ultimately sell our phones, tablets etc..”
Companies will be required to check their supply chain in order to respect human rights and prevent them from contributing to conflicts from January 1, 2021.
EU countries will be responsible for ensuring companies comply.
The regulation will also have an impact beyond the EU, as smelters that want to supply to the European market will have to be certified.