Europe and conflict minerals communities

The Round Table event at the Chapel of the Resurrection, Brussels
The Round Table event at the Chapel of the Resurrection, Brussels

As the UK prepares to trigger Article 50 this week and to begin its withdrawal from the European Union, the Jesuits in Brussels - including a scholastic from Britain - have been exploring issues relating to conflict minerals, respect for human rights and European consumer behaviour. Henry Longbottom SJ from the Jesuit European Social Centre (JESC) joined representatives from the Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network and the Justice and Peace Commission for a Round Table and photo exhibition, hosted at the Chapel of the Resurrection.

They were responding to the European Union’s adoption of legislation on responsible mineral sourcing this month and had the opportunity to view an exhibition of photographs taken by Ivan Benitez. This was put together by Alboan, the outreach arm of the Loyola Province of the Society of Jesus for development and social action, as part of its campaign for conflict-free technology. The exhibition included images, taken in June 2014, in Rubaya, 70 kilometers from Goma in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which illustrate the reality of mining in this region. They also give an insight into the conditions of the populations around the mining sites.

The majority of these people in the DRC have been displaced following violence in the region and have few alternatives to making a living. The photo exhibition aims to raise awareness of the impact of European consumption practices and Europe’s share of responsibility in creating unacceptable situations.

Environmental vulnerabilityJESC advocacy team Emmanuelle Devuyst & Henry Longbottom SJ

The Chapel of the Resurrection is a Roman Catholic church with an ecumenical vocation under the pastoral responsibility of the Society of Jesus. It is located in the heart of Brussels' European Quarter. The recent Round Table event at the Chapel was attended by about 50 people who listened to Marie Arena, a Socialist MEP who is in charge of conflict minerals in the parliamentary committee on international trade, and Monsignor Ramazzini, a bishop from Guatemala who has a background in defending the rights of local communities. Stakeholders and members of the public were invited to discuss how respect for human rights can be incorporated into European consumption patterns.

“Monsignor Ramazzini stressed the environmental vulnerability of Guatemala, which is not taken into account in the allocation of permits to prospect and exploit the subsoil,” said JESC advocacy officer Emmanuelle Devuyst. “He wants the European Union to prioritize human rights in its trade agreements and to place greater emphasis on the well-being of countries and not just look after its own interests when it comes to development assistance programmes.”

Marie Arena briefly assessed European legislation (the “Supply of Conflict Minerals Regulations”), highlighting the fact that the text is binding and should be considered as a first step. She regretted however that finished products were not covered by the legislation and that thresholds had been imposed. She also stressed the importance of (a) reviewing the European implementation of these new standards and (b) there being strong accompanying measures for member states on how to implement the regulation. These accompanying measures are being discussed and monitored closely by civil society to ensure that they are an effective tool to support affected populations.

While Henry Longbottom - who comes originally from West Yorkshire and blogs under the name 'Green Jesuit' - described the decision of the EU last year to introduce legal requirements on companies to check their supply-chains as "a breakthrough for campaigners against the importation of conflict minerals into the European market", he said the EU had not gone far enough. "The final version of proposed regulation is severely limited in scope and contains a number of loopholes which will blunt its effectiveness," he said. "For example, in contrast to the EU Parliament¹s more rigorous draft of 2015 that reflected relevant OECD Guidance, the proposed regulation applies only to imports of raw minerals." He also believes that early indications suggest the regulations will not come into full effect before 2021. "So in the meantime, faith and civil society groups will continue to apply pressure on political leaders and business leaders to support further strengthening of measures to combat the trade of conflict minerals regulation." Future negotiations within the United Nations on the adoption of a binding treaty on business and human rights will highlight the European Union’s position on the subject of conflict minerals.