Catholic News Service
A mineworker in Chudja, Congo, shows a small piece of gold found after water processing in this June 2009 file photo.
Catholic News Service
A mineworker in Chudja, Congo, shows a small piece of gold found after water processing in this June 2009 file photo.

OXFORD, England — An international consortium of Catholic aid agencies charged that European businesses are causing suffering and death by importing minerals from regions of the world experiencing armed conflict.

The Brussels-based International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity, or CIDSE, demanded firmer action by businesses to ensure that minerals used in consumer products such as cellphones and laptop computers are responsibly sourced.

"The exploitation and trade of natural resources finances armed groups responsible for serious abuses of local populations. We can all take action to end this violence," said the CIDSE statement released March 9.

"In sourcing resources from conflict-affected or high-risk areas, European businesses risk fueling violence to the detriment of human rights, peace and development. In this way, blood minerals find their way into our computers, telephones and cars," CIDSE said.

The statement was released ahead of March18-19 discussions in the European Parliament of a draft law, developed by the European Union's governing commission, to control minerals from conflict-torn regions.

It said civilians in Congo had suffered "mutilation, massacres, rape, slavery and massive displacement" during 15 years of war, at the hands of armed groups financed by "riches of the subsoil."

European firms also have been accused of allowing trade in resources to perpetuate human rights violations in countries such as Colombia, Zimbabwe and Myanmar.

CIDSE, representing 17 aid groups from Europe and North America, said the proposed law would be "largely insufficient" because it named only 480 European companies and merely "encouraged" them to "investigate their supply chains."

The consortium said the law also applied to just four minerals -- tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold -- and excluded copper, jade, rubies, coal, diamonds and other resources that also "contribute to abuses."

A CIDSE staff member predicted public pressure would lead to a tighter EU law.

"Before the commission draft was tabled, the concerned industries lobbied hard in defense of their vested interests. So we now need our own counter pressure," Stefan Reinhold, CIDSE's advocacy expert, told Catholic News Service March 11.

"There are strong moral and ethical arguments to contrast with the purely economic claims we often hear about safeguarding businesses. European citizens don't want blood on their mobile phones," he said.

The proposed law is not without precedence elsewhere. In the United States, the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act required companies listed on American stock exchanges to "undertake supply chain due diligence" by checking whether minerals in their products contributed to funding armed groups.

In February, 130 Catholic bishops from 37 countries said the proposed EU law would not go far enough at a time when citizens were struck daily by "images and stories of horrors" and "expecting guarantees that they are not complicit."

The statement said the 28 EU countries imported significant amounts of raw materials from conflict-affected regions and noted that some European firms were "complicit in abuses" through their supply chains.

"This situation is intolerable. States are surely required to make every effort to ensure the conditions for peace not only in their own territory but around the world. This is certainly the social teaching of the Catholic Church," it said.

"The indifference of a few, who look away from their part of responsibility for other peoples' pain, threatens our shared human dignity. To stop this, new rules are urgently needed to ensure the bounty of God's creation does not serve unquestioning consumption while underwriting the destruction of life."

Reinhold told CNS the statement had received "strong backing" from the Vatican and Catholic justice and peace commissions.

"We hope elected European parliamentarians will now respect the concerns of European citizens in this crucial area," he said.

In its statement, CIDSE urged Europeans to write to their representatives ahead of the European Parliament's debate May 18-21, urging them to "rise up and act strongly" by ensuring citizens were not "complicit in this deadly exploitation and trade of natural resources."

Meanwhile, Bishop Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of the Bokungu-Ikela, Congo, president of the Congo episcopal commission for natural resources, said he hoped the CIDSE campaign would have an impact.

He said that, during a February visit to European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, he had explained the need to "break the link between natural resources and conflicts."

"I know the misery our people are living in, and how the anarchic, noncoordinated and illegal exploitation of natural resources has contributed," Bishop Ambongo told Europeinfos, newsletter of the Jesuit European Social Center and the Commission of the Bishops' Conference of the European Community.

"Our hope is there will be a clear law regulating the exploitation of natural resources, and that this will oblige big companies to follow the rules and be transparent," he said.