Conflict Minerals: How the Mining Industry is Fighting Back

9 min

As a mining recruitment agency, we are proud and passionate about placing senior-level mining jobs within the industry. It is a vast sector that provides mining jobs worldwide, drives economies, and fuels industries and people's way of life. However, the industry also faces many challenges, from sustainable mining to the rise of technology. 


One of the industry's darkest and most critical challenges is the battle against the trade of 'conflict minerals'. The trade of conflict minerals destroys lives and funds violence and wars in some of the world's poorest regions. In this article, we are asking how the mining industry is fighting back and ensuring they are producing ethical minerals? 


It is firstly important that we gain an understanding of conflict minerals and what mining resources are affected. 

What are Conflict Minerals? 

Conflict minerals are mined in conflict zones and politically unstable areas and are used by armed groups to fund violence and wars. Common materials that are mined to fuel conflict include the following:

  • Gold
  • Cobalt
  • Tin
  • Tungsten
  • Tantalum

Conflict minerals can enter the supply chain at various points of the process. For example, it can occur from the initial mining stage to when it is traded to different countries. 


Businesses can be affected at either the upstream or downstream end of the supply chain. For example, stakeholders could trade and process conflict minerals at the upstream stage. These materials would then be used at the downstream stage for manufacturing products in industries such as automotive, electronics, aerospace, and jewellery. 

One country that has unfortunately become synonymous with the trade of conflict minerals is the Democratic Republic of Congo. So next, let’s explore the trade of these minerals and their effects on the region. 

Conflict Minerals and Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo is a country that has borne the brunt of conflict minerals. The region has been experiencing a multigenerational series of brutal civil and interstate wars since 1993, with various militia groups fighting for control of the country. The Congolese Conflict, also known as the Great War of Africa, is the deadliest conflict since World War 2. 

One of the main triggers for the war was the control of Eastern Congo's mines. The various groups knew that if they gained control of these mines, they would be guaranteed millions in profits. 


The conflict minerals trade is a multibillion-dollar industry providing armed groups with an estimated $180 million in profits, which is then used to buy weapons and supplies to fight the war. In addition, governments and rebel groups profit from their control over the mines by smuggling the materials out of the country and selling minerals to smelters and refineries to fund their conflicts. 


Regardless of who is in charge of the mines, the local mine workers are ruthlessly exploited. A region amid a horrific conflict does not need to worry about a mine’s health, safety, and labour protections. Miners are regularly beaten and forced to work in unstable mines, which, when they collapse, are deadly. 


Conflict mineral mining in the DRC is also rife with child labour. For example, of the 255,000 Congolese cobalt miners, 40,000 are children, with some as young as six. Many workers are forced to use their own tools, usually their hands. And how much are they paid for this hard and dangerous labour? Less than $2 a day. 


With huge numbers of countries and companies rejecting conflict diamonds, how is the DRC managing to trade its vast resources? First, the minerals are sold to neighbouring countries, particularly Rwanda and Uganda. They are then sold by these countries who pass them off as 'conflict-free', despite where they originally came from. To highlight the size of this trade, Uganda has tiny gold deposits but has an average gold export value of $100 million. 

The Impact of Conflict Minerals

The impact of conflict minerals can be devastating to businesses, civil society, the environment, and the lives of those working in the mines. As mentioned previously, miners involved in conflict minerals are severally unpaid and are often victims of child labour. Let's take a look at three further impacts of conflict minerals. 

Environmental Destruction

As many of the mines that are linked to conflict minerals are illegal, they do not follow or comply with environmental regulations. As a result, these mining operations are potentially highly damaging to the environment. Common environmental issues include soil erosion and land and water pollution.  


These environmental issues can lead to public health problems and depletion of resources. For example, soil erosion and land and water pollution can heavily impact businesses. When land and water sources become barren and polluted, it can cause a lack of raw material sources that they can use for services and products. In addition, this pollution also affects local communities as a lack of food and water leads to hunger and malnutrition. 

Increased Social Unrest 

The continued mining and use of conflict minerals can cause an increase in social unrest. In addition, these minerals provide a source of money that funds weapons. Therefore, militias will continue to cause terror in communities and injure and kill local people. 


In the DRC, since 1998, a reported 5.4 million people have been killed due to armed conflicts. Behind these conflicts are militia groups that fund their activities via the country's extensive number of resource-rich mines. 


As mentioned, poor wages and child labour are common in the mines. Furthermore, the militia groups also resort to inhumane working practices. For example, some miners are forced to work 24 hours straight in appalling conditions.

Negative Business Reputation

Due to the devastation the trade of conflict minerals can have, companies found using them can bring hugely negative connotations for their future business dealings. This negativity can be in the form of publicity that can drive away investors and customers. With humanitarian organisations, charities, and the mining industry driving the message to demand conflict mineral-free products, businesses must ensure they are not associated with this deadly trade.  

Three Ways the Mining Industry is Preventing Conflict Minerals

To ensure ethically sourced products and transparency and to remain profitable in a competitive market, the minerals and mining industry has taken steps to ensure that their products do not fund conflicts. Using ethically sourced minerals means increased resources, reduced population, a healthier and protected workforce, and increased chances for peace in countries such as DRC. 


Next, we will explore three conflict minerals regulations fighting against conflict minerals. 

Conflict-free Gold Standard 

In 2012, the World Gold Council launched the Conflict-Free Gold Standard. The standard was brought in to address the growing concern about the links between gold and violent and unlawful armed conflict in countries such as DRC. 


While the proportion of the world's newly mined gold that is affected by conflict is relatively small, mining companies should be promoting responsible mining to ensure that the gold they produce, or them as a business, aren’t contributing to any conflict. 


The standard offers gold mining companies a way to prove that the gold they produce is 'conflict-free'. The process includes a public commitment to human rights, steps to reporting any infringements of procedures or resolving grievances raised by the local community, and transparency over payments to governments and other officials.   


Terry Haymann, Chief Financial Officer of the World Gold Council, commented: "We wanted consumers to have confidence that gold was produced in a way that didn't contribute to conflict anywhere in the world," 


While much of the attention around conflict minerals has been centred on countries like DRC, the World Gold Council ensures that the standard applies to gold miners operating in any country. Haymann comments further, saying:


"We work in collaboration with donor governments, development agencies, such as the World Bank, and NGOs. We need to work together for solutions that don't stigmatise responsibly produced gold."

Responsible Jewellery Council

The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) Certification is designed to establish trust in the world jewellery industry by ensuring that industry organisations adhere to responsible business practices. The certification is applicable for gold, silver, diamonds, gemstones, and platinum group metals (PGMs) supply chains from mining through to retail. 


The RJC currently has 1,600 members, and the certification not only proves that their products are conflict-free, but it also gives companies a chance to shine a spotlight on their progress around social responsibility, as Fiona Solomon, who was the director of standards development at RJC, explained:


"Certified companies say that the process of achieving certification enables them to 'corporate social responsibility-check' their organisation and identify where they need to improve to reach conformance. The process of continual improvement is an important dimension of voluntary standards."


Tin Supply Chain Initiative (ITSCI)

ITSCI forms part of a due diligence and traceability program designed to address concerns around 'conflict minerals' from the Democratic Republic of Congo and adjoining countries. 


The program assists mining businesses in complying with national and international regulations. National governments implement the program, and the mining industry mainly funds it. Still, it is monitored by independent auditors and civil society to ensure it is carried out correctly. 


The ITSCI program has several steps in how it monitors mining practices and ensures minerals remain ethical; these are as follows:

  • Mineral mines and transport routes are vetted to confirm they are conflict-free. 
  • Once confirmed as conflict-free, mines are added into ITSCi's system. 
  • Mined minerals are washed, bagged, and then weighed and tagged by a government official to start the traceability process. 
  • After minerals have been sold to traders, government officials weigh them for a second time to ensure that minerals were not smuggled during the process. Minerals are re-bagged and re-tagged. 
  • Minerals are sold to exporting companies, transporting them to their processing plants. 
  • The bags are weighed for a third time by a government official to check bags haven't been tampered with. 
  • After the minerals have been processed and stored in large containers, they are transported globally with their tags and legal documentation ready to be checked by national authorities. 


These three programs are carrying out crucial work in the mining industry as they are helping to prevent conflict minerals, save lives and increase the chances for peace. However, leaders in the industry or those planning on starting a mining career must be aware of these challenges and ensure their mines and companies comply with conflict minerals regulations. 

Experts in Placing Senior-level Mining Jobs

The mining industry has shown itself to be future-focused and socially responsible. However, to guarantee the industry continues to be profitable while ensuring ethical working practices are followed, it needs strong leaders who will lead by example and ensure regulations are followed by themselves, their companies, and the wider workforce. 


As CSG, we specialise in identifying and placing senior-level talent in global mining businesses. With clients and candidates, we want to get to know you, your requirements, and your goals. With this information, we will connect to organisations and individuals who best meet your needs and ambitions. 

If you want more information, visit our dedicated page and discover the latest mining jobs and how our dedicated consultants can support you in your recruitment journey.