EU Parliament votes for tougher rules on use of conflict minerals

If implemented, the rules will potentially affect 880,000 companies, including tech firms

Vote in the European Parliament

Vote in the European Parliament

The European Parliament wants to apply strict disclosure requirements on companies whose products contain so-called conflict materials, often used in laptops, tablets and smartphones and other consumer electronics.

The EU legislative body approved a draft regulation on Wednesday that would oblige companies, including tech firms, to provide information on the use of material sourced from conflict zones, areas where the mining and sales of minerals is often controlled by warlords. The rules would also make companies disclose the steps they are taking to avoid use of such materials.

If implemented, the rules would potentially affect 880,000 EU companies that use tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold in manufacturing consumer products, the Parliament said in a news release.

In addition, the Parliament voted in favor of a mandatory certification system for EU importers of minerals used for manufacturing consumer goods.

The system needs to ensure that importers do not fuel conflict and human rights abuses in areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo and other parts of Africa, the Parliament said.

The rules approved by the Parliament are more strict than those proposed by the European Commission, which favors a less stringent, voluntary self-certification system.

Such a voluntary system, though, was slammed for being "weak" by more than 150 rights groups that called on the Parliament earlier this week to propose rules that have a meaningful impact.

The Parliament's proposed rules, however, won't become law anytime soon. Beyond Wednesday's vote lies a long road of negotiations. Next, the Parliament will enter into informal talks with ministers of European countries gathered in the Council of the EU, the EU's other law-making body, to seek agreement on the final version of the law.

Judith Sargentini, a Green member of Parliament from the Netherlands, said in a press release that strict rules are essential to ensure Europe plays a proactive role in stopping the use of conflict minerals. If implemented, they would ensure that consumer goods like tablets and mobile phones are covered, she said.

Exactly how the system proposed by the Parliament would work is unclear, but the plan is to model it on the due diligence guidance for responsibly sourcing minerals from conflict areas issued by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It is designed to help companies respect human rights and avoid contributing to conflict.

The same OECD guidance was used as the basis for regulation in the U.S., where the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2012 implemented a rule requiring publicly traded companies to disclose whether they used minerals that originated in the Democratic Republic of Congo or adjoining countries.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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