A Global Approach to Regulating Trade in Conflict Goods in the DRC

Since 1996, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been ravaged by war. Over 3.9 million people have died either from direct conflict or indirect war-related causes, making it arguably the deadliest conflict since World War II. Approximately 1.5 million Congolese civilians remain internally displaced and another 400,000 have become refugees. Recent national elections and a series of broken peace treaties and ceasefires have ultimately failed to bring peace to the DRC, and today violent conflict continues, primarily in the easternmost regions of the country.

Armed rebel groups, political and military elites, and multinational corporations have reaped billions of dollars in profits from natural resource exploitation, small arms trafficking, and taxation. There is no doubt these groups and individuals have benefited from the continuation of the war, as the resulting political instability and violence have created conditions in which they are able to assert authority over minera-lrich territories and commit horrible atrocities against the Congolese people.

The link between conflict and resource exploitation in the DRC is complex, and rooted in a long history tracing back through numerous civil wars to the nation’s colonial period. Networks of conflict involving local, regional, and international actors have produced the patterns of local and regional violence, as well as local resource extraction, which characterize what has become one of the most devastating humanitarian disasters of today.

The war in the DRC thus serves as an interesting case study to analyze the important role of trade in driving contemporary violent conflicts, and raises essential questions concerning the relationship between multinational corporations and war in an increasingly interconnected world. To allow for such an analysis, this paper will address several key questions: what is the role of conflict goods in perpetuating violence in the DRC? What other factors serve to perpetuate the violence, and to what extent do they do so relative to conflict trade? How have local, regional, and international dynamics facilitated this trade? Are multinational companies that profit either directly or indirectly from conflict complicit in the cycle of violence? What actions can be taken to reduce the trade in conflict goods?

The answers to these questions will reveal that natural resource exploitation has indeed been a key factor in perpetuating and prolonging the conflict in the DRC, first and foremost by providing the necessary revenue for rebel groups and the government to continue fighting. In addition, globalization and market liberalization have facilitated the rise in the trade of conflict goods, particularly natural resources, by providing outlets and access to global markets.

Multinational corporations have, for example, capitalized on the lack of state authority in the mining regions of the DRC to develop alliances with local militias to gain access to profitable mines. Local militias, in turn, have used the profits they reap from these relationships to buy weapons and further assert their authority over the local population through violence. It will be shown here that in this way, time and again, international companies and global markets have contributed to the continuation of the war in the DRC, and are therefore complicit, albeit indirectly, in the numerous and ongoing violent acts perpetrated against the people of the DRC. Only through the enforcement of international regulations regarding conflict trade and the promotion of corporate responsibility will multinational companies and other international actors be provided the incentives to reduce the global trade in conflict goods, and thus contribute to a sustainable peace in the DRC.

Defining Conflict Trade

Often, little or no distinction is made between legitimate and illegal trade. As a result, there are multiple definitions of conflict trade. Neil Cooper describes the phenomenon as “trade in nonmilitary goods that finance war, including both the export and import of goods to a war zone as well as extraterritorial trade.” He goes on to describe conflict goods as “nonmilitary materials, knowledge, animals, or humans whose trade, taxation or protection is exploited to finance or otherwise maintain the war economies of contemporary conflicts.” Global Witness similarly defines conflict trade goods as “natural resources whose systematic exploitation and trade in a context of conflict contribute to, benefit from, or result in the commission of serious violations of human rights or international law.”

History of Conflict Trade in DRC

Unfortunately, economic exploitation for personal gain has a long history among the governing regimes of the DRC. The Belgians, who in 1867 began colonizing the territory that included the present day DRC, established a state based on resource extraction. Very little money was invested in the local economy or infrastructure, and forced labor programs were instituted at the expense of the local population. This practice continued under Mobutu Sese Seko, who seized control of the country in 1965, and only two years later nationalized the mining industry. Mobutu’s failure to use revenue to benefit the population prompted enterprising civilians to establish clandestine national and regional trade networks. A kleptocratic political economy was thus established, which further undermined development, peace, and stability in the country. Indeed, ineffective state institutions and the virtual break down of law and order under Mobutu led to the creation of something of a shadow state. This term, coined by William Reno, refers to “a form of personal rule where the state’s authority is based upon the decision and interests of an individual, as opposed to a set of codified laws and procedures even though these formal aspects of government may exist.”

The pattern of illicit investment and a winner-takes-all approach in the region continued throughout Mobutu’s rule and persists to the present day. Following the outbreak of the first Congo war in 1996, a coffee and gold smuggler by the name of Laurent Kabila, allied with the governments of Rwanda and Uganda to overthrow Mobutu. Each of these parties had mining interests in what was then known as Zaire; Rwanda and Uganda sought access to mineral resources in the border regions, and Kabila, allied with several mining companies, sought control of the Zaire’s mineral wealth. Prior to the invasion, Kabila had negotiated contracts with several prominent international mining companies, including DeBeers Consolidated Mines and American Mineral Fields, both of which continued to operate in Zaire even as it became clear that there was no peace in sight. As Dena Montague notes, “by securing large mining deals with the Alliances des Forces Démocratiques de Libération du CongoZaïre (AFDL), Kabila’s rebel force . . . international mining interests helped create a relationship that established legitimate mining operations in rebeloccupied territories and essentially provided revenues to the AFDL.” Following the overthrow of Mobutu’s government in September 1997, Kabila assumed nominal control over the country.

The second Congo war began in 1998 when Kabila’s one time allies, Uganda and Rwanda, turned their troops against his regime. The regionalization of the conflict deepened when Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Sudan, and Chad began providing military support to the Kabila government in Kinshasa, and Uganda and Rwanda created their own alliances with rebel groups in the eastern part of the country. According to Tatiana Carayannis, “all parties received logistical, financial or other support from expatriate-owned businesses in the region, as well as from financial institutions, communications, transport and mining companies, and arms dealers from outside the region.” The Kabila government raised money for its war effort through the sale of mining and foresting concessions to foreign companies.

This pattern of illegal resource extraction continued throughout the war and remained prevalent even after peace deals were brokered in 2003. To this day, successive leaders of the DRC have continuously allowed and even encouraged international mining companies to take advantage of strife to fill their own coffers, and various armed factions that depend on illicit trade to sustain their operations continue to operate above the law. The net effect has been the persistence of trade and monetary zones that effectively exist beyond the sphere of influence of the government in Kinshasa.

The Conflict Cycle: The Role of Trade in Perpetuating Violence

The political economy of conflict trade in the DRC has influenced post-conflict reconstruction through what can be referred to as the spoiler process, whereby the elites who benefit from war and instability have little or no incentive to work for peace, and indeed at times actively seek to disrupt or hinder the peace process. Furthermore, the persistence of armed conflict empowers belligerents and provides them with economic and political entitlements that they would not have access to in peacetime. These mutually reinforcing dynamics explain why the departure of foreign armies from the DRC in 2003 has done little to stop the violence stemming from conflicts over natural resource control.13 In fact, soldiers from the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) and Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) remain in place today, and specialize in mining activities. Both armies also operate through local proxy forces such as the Rassemblement Congolaise pour la Démocratie-Goma (RCDG), a Rwandan-backed militia created to protect Tutsi interests, and Rassemblement Congolaise pour la Démocratie Mouvement Libération (RCDML), a Ugandan backed militia created to protect Uganda’s interests in the DRC. In their spheres of operation, these groups monopolize production, commercial, and fiscal functions, and in some cases form front companies for their illicit activities. They have benefited from the lack of state authority in the eastern DRC, as well as from the state’s porous borders. According to Mats Berdal, “the crossborder spillover of violence and the empowerment of borderlands as sanctuaries for combatants and nurseries for recruits are at the center of shadow state economic activity and the intra-regional commercial and other connections that make for prolonged and intractable conflict.”

The abundance of minerals in the DRC, and the processes by which they are extracted, are well-suited to operate amid conflict. The extraction of diamonds, gold, cobalt, and cassiterite is fairly easy and not capital intensive; companies engaged in extraction thus do not require stability, state infrastructure, or local markets to do so profitably. And many firms are able to provide their own security by hiring local military units or foreign private security guards.15 Finally, the fact that the majority of resources are located beyond the physical reach of state authority and the capital facilitates their illegal extraction and makes them easier for armed groups to control. This fact, coupled with the DRC’s porous borders, has allowed numerous actors to engage in illegal cross-border trade.

International competition for scarce resources has also been a significant factor in the persistence of political instability and the continuation of violent hostilities in the DRC. Both coltan and cassiterite (more commonly known as tin) have been illegally mined and sold in Western markets, with profits going to both internal rebel forces and the militaries of neighboring countries. In 2004, the elevated global demand for cassiterite corresponded with an escalation in violence in the provinces of North and South Kivu in eastern DRC. Demonstrating the scope of groups vying for these valuable resources, the fighting involved the RCDG, local defense groups, and the Forces Armées de la Républic Démocratique du Congo (FARDC).17 The continuation of fighting between groups that were supposedly integrated into the national army is a clear sign that demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration in the DRC has been met with limited success.

At present, armed hostilities in the DRC take place primarily between Rwandan-backed and Ugandan-backed militias, the national army, and local defense groups. Yet militias like FNI continue to operate within their own provinces, namely Ituri and the Kivus. The FARDC is supposedly in control of South Kivu, but the army receives low and erratic pay, and taxes miners to supplement income just like the rebel forces. In some instances, local diamond miners have demanded local protection when they felt threatened by the FARDC, and in others artisanal diamond diggers have been killed in shootouts between the military and mining guards hired to enforce security around the mines. Both facts suggest that the government is just as complicit in perpetuating the conflict as the local militias are.

The dismantling of civil society, the degradation of state infrastructure, and a lack of basic social services as a result of the war have all exacerbated ethnic tensions in the DRC. In eastern DRC, the economies of conflict are intertwined with tribal and ethnic tension and disputes, social disintegration, high unemployment, poverty, and the presence of armed rebel groups backed by Rwanda and Uganda. Elites from the Ugandan People’s Defense Force have succeeding in manipulating the ethnic conflict between the Hema and Lendu militias FNI, UPC, and PUSIC in Orientale and Ituri provinces, in order to maintain control over the gold-rich territory.

While the conflict in the DRC is highly concentrated in the mining regions of the east, other areas are also affected by the trade in conflict goods. A notable exception is the mineral-rich Katanga in the south, which has largely avoided the violence that has crippled the rest of the country. However, economic and social problems are widespread in Katanga, and unless something is done to address the situation and better distribute resources to the population, popular resentment could fuel violent conflict. In addition, there is the potential for a resurgence of historical secessionist sentiments that date back to independence. Despite the fact that the secessionist movement was quelled in the 1960s, it nonetheless contributed to weakening the state authority and ultimately enabled illicit mining to flourish. Global Witness claims that “present-day secessionist movements are driven by the perception that mining profits are not benefiting Katangans, but rather foreign companies and the Kinshasa powerbase.”23 This illustrates that conflict trade goods cannot be viewed in solely in terms of its economic impact, and that there are political and social consequences as well.

According to another report by Global Witness, “the poverty, the hundreds of thousands of willingly exploited adults and children, and the volatility of the diamond fields make for a highly flammable social cocktail, one that has ignited several times in recent years, with tragic results.” Unchecked resource exploitation puts a strain on the environment, increases the propensity for inter-group and intra-group violence, and creates an atmosphere in which violence is employed in an effort to achieve a vision of equitable economic justice. In the absence of physical and financial security, and with the lack of political channels for protest, it is not surprising that many individuals resort to violence.

Thus while trade in conflict goods has certainly been a key factor in promoting conflict in the DRC, it is not the sole factor. It is true that violence is linked to natural resource exploitation, and that resources provide the means for armed insurgents to perpetuate a cycle of violence. However, it is a double-sided process wherein grievance fuels greed and vice versa. Le Billion notes, “as the wealth and power gap between the ruling and the ruled increases, so does the frustration of marginalized groups seeing political change as the only avenue for satisfying their greed, aspirations, or expressing their grievances.” Therefore it is necessary to view conflict trade in the DRC within the political, economic, and social context of the country and the region.

Local, Regional, and International Networks

Conflict trade in the DRC incorporates a combination of political, economic, military, and sociocultural factors that are linked to the international sphere. Armed groups seek to attain political legitimacy and develop and/or maintain external alliances. Trade depends on a group’s ability to work with companies in, and gain access to, legitimate markets. This is usually done through the establishment of close ties with multinational corporations. Armed groups thus focus on war financing and natural resource extraction to achieve their economic and political goals.

There are two distinct networks operating in the DRC. Specifically, there are those with ties to the central government in Kinshasa that use their connections to benefit from resource trade, and those without ties to the central government who have no choice but to work through the informal economy. Both groups are part of larger regional and international networks and operate in much the same fashion. As Carayannis notes, “there is no neat dividing line between the external and internal dimensions of this conflict, because while they may be discrete systems of conflict, they contain financial, political, and ideological factors that cut across conflict boundaries and link them together in global networks of war.”

Globalization and Market Liberalization

While state failure has certainly contributed to resource exploitation in the DRC, international changes have created the conditions that allow rebel groups to profit so gainfully. Shifting modes of state power and the increased importance of non-state actors have greatly expanded the number of international actors, thus facilitating the construction of new regional and international networks, both licit and illicit, which rebels have utilized to their advantage. The decline of superpower patronage and increased market liberalization has meant that trade in conflict goods has a particular salience in both contemporary conflicts and the process of state collapse. The deregulation of international financial markets, the opening up of new markets and the expansion of old markets, and advances in technology have led to a growing engagement between rebels, political elites, and international criminal networks. Global changes have brought in elites with ties to different networks, allowing them to develop links to states, companies, international organizations, and global markets as a means to assert claims over resources and authority. According to Neil Cooper,

In one sense, conflict trade is yet a further manifestation of the negative side of globalization as actors in contemporary conflict use global trading networks and diasporas to exploit their control over local resources to fund wealth acquisition and military campaigns. It also highlights the amoral side of global capitalism, with much of this trade ultimately dependent on purchases by companies or actors operating in the domain of the supposedly legitimate economy.

The same process that drove the liberal peace also drives the liberal war, in which violence is concentrated in the hands of armed militias and private military companies. The result is a whole new class of international and local entrepreneurs that profit from unregulated global networks of illegal resource extraction and arms trafficking.

Local and Regional Actors

Conflict trade in the DRC runs through a complex web of local and regional networks including states, private armies, businessmen, elites, organized criminal groups, and multinational corporations. As previously stated, Rwanda and Uganda have played a pivotal role in illegal resource extraction, and continue to play a role via proxy local militias. Due to the geographical location of the resources being exploited, trade networks generally link to the east, such that a large number of companies are linked to Rwandan military and government officials. Ties exist between Eugene Serufuli, the governor of North Kivu, and General Kabarebe, the chief of staff of the Rwandan army. In Rwandan proxy-controlled territory, rebels provide security around resource-rich areas and attack local defense groups who obstruct their commercial operations. These operations are organized by Eagle Wings Resources International and Rwandan Metals. Eagle Wings, a coltan exporter, is a subsidiary of Trinitech International, based in the United States.

Created to facilitate the extraction of minerals, Rwandan Metals is owned by Rwandan government elites and individuals with close ties to the government, and has a monopoly on coltan in much of the territory controlled by its proxy rebel force RCDG. Rather than allowing direct purchases between the Congolese and foreign companies in the RCDG–controlled territory, Rwandan Metals processes everything through what is referred to as the “Congo Desk,” an office centrally located in a cell of the Ministry of Defense in Kigali. Minerals are transported by planes and trucks from eastern DRC to cities across the border for processing.

In government-controlled territory, Congolese and Zimbabwean political, military and economic elites control resource extraction. By transferring state assets to private companies and establishing joint ventures between the state mining companies and private enterprises, the elites continue to reap enormous financial gains. These elites have benefited from the instability of the DRC and have fueled tensions by supporting armed groups from Rwanda, namely exInterahamwe Hutus who perpetuated the 1994 genocide. Additionally, many high officials in the DRC government, including the national security minister, the minister of the presidency, the planning minister, and several directors of the state mining companies, have stakes in private companies. These elites have formed a joint business venture with George Forrest, a Belgian businessman, and the state mining company Gécamines. Forrest’s other company makes and markets military equipment. Another company with rights to Gécamines concessions, Tremalt Ltd, provided the Congolese and Zimbabwean militaries with trucks, buses and cash payments.
In Ugandan proxy-controlled areas, UPDF officers, private businessmen, and rebel leaders have established their authority and use it to collect taxes from the local population. The rebels also steal cattle and participate in illegal logging. Most of the gold in Ituri is extracted through smallscale mining under the control of armed belligerents. The ongoing armed conflict in Ituri between Hema and Lendu tribes stems in part from the efforts of Hema businessmen and politicians to increase benefits from resource extraction.

International Actors

Local and regional groups would not be able to operate without access to international mineral markets. The role of multinational corporations has thus been extremely important in conflict trade in the DRC. As Carayannis points out,

International companies and global markets are deeply complicit in perpetuating war economies, as they are frequently key nodes in these networks. They supply goods and services and provide market outlets to warring government authorities, rebels and warlords who, without these companies, would have neither the foreign capital to finance a war nor the profit incentive to sustain one.

Multinational companies have provided arms, paid taxes and licensing fees, and provided armed security forces for a variety of actors in the DRC. International business has, through its contracts, deals, and provisions, served to finance and sustain those actors involved in the Central African conflict. International companies have also viewed rebel-held territory as de facto sovereign states and used local leaders as conduits for illicit trade. This practice not only violates the right of DRC sovereignty under international law, but has also served to bolster the rebel’s control in certain areas.

Due to the large number of companies operating in the DRC and the complex organization of international networks, it would be almost impossible to study the role of each in conflict trade. A study of several companies, however, provides a general view of how international companies contribute to perpetuation and prolongation of conflict in the DRC.

American Mineral Fields (AMF) has operated in the DRC since Laurent Kabila’s coup in 1996. AMF was at one point granted a billion dollar concession by Kabila to mine copper, cobalt, and zinc. It has been suggested that AMF had ties to business associates of President Clinton, who had been supporting the Kabila coup. According to a report by the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights,

American Mineral Fields directly benefited from America’s initial covert military and intelligence support for Kabila. America’s early support for Kabila, which was aided and abetted by U.S. allies Rwanda and Uganda, had less to do with getting rid of the Mobutu regime than it had to do with opening up Congo’s vast mineral riches to North American-based and American-influenced mining companies.

Other such links have been shown to exist. Foreign-owned AngloGold Ashanti has been linked to the Ituri military group, Front Nationaliste et Intégrationiste (FNI), which has committed human rights abuses on a large scale.42 Anvil Mining supplied air and ground transport to the FARDC in October 2004 in response to rebel activity in Kilwa, and the FARDC went on to kill 100 civilians.

The U.K. based Afrimex continues to trade in minerals in a way that perpetuates the conflict in the DRC and is in clear breach of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines. Since 1998, Afrimex has paid annually to the RCDG a $15,000 licensing fee and a percentage of its total value of exports. In 2004 and 2005, Afrimex was the second largest exporter of tin and controlled 40 percent of all tin exports from South Kivu. By paying taxes to RCDG, the company directly contributed to funding armed rebel groups which in turn committed grave human rights abuses, including extortion, killing and forced mass displacement. The director of Afrimex has acknowledged these payments while simultaneously claiming to be ignorant of what the taxes were funding.

And yet, according to a UN Panel of Experts, “linkages between different actors and stakeholders are very well structured to the point that governments and large reputable companies operate in confidence. . . . The importing companies and facilitators are aware of the real origin of [a particular resource].”45 International companies therefore cannot claim ignorance. Despite assertions otherwise, it seems clear that multinational companies are not mere passive observers; rather often have an enormous impact on the political, economic, and social conditions in the areas in which they operate.

The exacerbation of the conflict in the DRC is also attributable to some degree to enduser countries who indirectly contribute to illegal exploitation by failing to accurately trace the origins of imports. Belgium, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Russia, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States all receive a substantial amount of minerals from the DRC.

Reducing the Trade: An International Effort

As evidenced by the case studies presented briefly above, numerous companies and states hold some responsibility for the persistence of conflict trade and thus the perpetuation of violence in the DRC. Precisely because of their involvement, however, these international actors also have the potential to contribute to promoting a sustainable peace in the DRC, by altering their actions and becoming more aware of their indirect complicity in the conflict there. These actors, along with the government of the DRC, regional actors, and the rest of the international community, must target war economies by raising the economic costs—and thus reducing the profitability—of war. Only in this way can the potential for international trade to promote good governance and economic stability, rather than war and violence, be realized.

Sustainable Development

The DRC must seek to address growing levels of inequity and poverty, which are most certainly due to a failure to reap the benefits of globalization. While it may seem ideal to obstruct trade in mineral resources and find alternative livelihoods for miners and rebels who currently profit from illicit resource extraction, doing so would present an enormous challenge an is probably an unrealistic option in the short term. The potential profit to be made from mineral resources is so great that it would be virtually impossible to discourage miners, rebels, and international corporations from continuing the trade.

While natural resources have been fundamental to continuing the war in the DRC, resource extraction can indeed be vital to aiding the country’s recovery and reconciliation. Yet unless action is taken to control illicit mining, hopes of mining-aided development will be dashed. Alluvial diamond mines are centers of employment for young men, and the profits from these mines should be used to improve the lives of miners and their families. The international community should also aid the DRC in the conversion of this mining into part of the formal economy by establishing cooperatives and unions, and by regulating the global mineral trade. Multinational corporations operating in the DRC should make an effort to transfer such valueadded processes as smelting—most of which currently take place abroad—and the capital they require, to the DRC. Transferring these processes to the DRC would provide additional jobs for locals and help provide sustainable development solutions.

The DRC’s development should also include restoration of roads and state infrastructure. Local economic growth in the Kivus, for example, is hampered by inaccessibility to other regions of the country. Formerly the breadbasket of the nation, Katanga province has been forced to abandon much of its agricultural activity due to its isolation from regional markets. The construction of roads and the establishment of infrastructure would allow the provinces to reconnect with the rest of the country, which would allow for more effective assertion of state authority in these areas. Multinational corporations also stand to benefit from improved infrastructure, and thus should be engaged to assist with financing the necessary construction.

International Regulations

Sustainable development initiatives, however, will not work unless the international community works to strengthen international regulations on natural resource trade. As Global Witness observes, “as long as companies, armed factions, and countries have unfettered access to the DRC’s resources outside of any reasonable controls, the country will be deprived of revenues and riven with corruption and conflict.” The goal should not be to obstruct trade, but rather to identify mechanisms and practices that will eliminate the profits of war and the loss human of life that occur as a result of trade in the DRC.

First and foremost, the international community needs to establish a consensus definition of conflict goods in order to better regulate them. The definition offered previously in this paper would be acceptable. Effective regulations would encourage corporate due diligence by providing a clear behavioral red flag, and thus encourage companies to be more conflict-sensitive. By blacklisting corporations or “naming and shaming” them, the international community could better deter trade in these resources and stem consequent human rights abuses.

It is also pertinent for the international community, via the United Nations, to establish and improve regulations on mining processes and mineral transfers. The Kimberley Process currently exists only for diamonds, but should be modified to include coltan, tin, and gold. There are indeed problems with the Kimberley Process, for example the current definition of conflict diamonds as “rough diamonds used by rebel movements or their allies to finance conflict aimed at undermining legitimate governments.” As the DRC illustrates, a government can also be involved in the illegal exploitation of diamonds and other minerals. The process must therefore be updated to include states and the multinational corporations that do business with them. An additional and related shortfall of the Kimberly Process is that relies on states to implement regulations, and thus is dependent on the existence of effective internal controls. In the DRC, the process has been implemented on paper only. The central government created Service d’Assitance et d’Encadrement du Small Scale Mining (SAESSCAM) to organize and assist artisan mining initiatives, create cooperatives, and track the flow of diamonds from the mine to the point of sale. In a situation such as the conflict in the DRC, where the government is colluding in illegal diamond extraction, it is unlikely that the process will affect a change on the ground. Enforcement must come from elsewhere.
The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), launched by Tony Blair at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, could potentially play a key role in minimizing conflict trade. The initiative brings together governments, extractive companies, investors, and civil society group to work towards better economic governance. Under EITI, all groups involved in the flow of mineral goods are responsible for regulating the trade. The home governments of multinational companies—often the enduser nations of illegally extracted resources—must play a greater role in enforcing the OECD guidelines. According to the UN Panel of Experts, countries that have signed on to the OECD guidelines are

morally obliged to ensure that their business enterprises adhere to and act on the Guidelines. Home governments are complicit when they do not take remedial measure in cases where enterprises based in their jurisdiction abuse principles of conduct that they have adopted as a matter of law.

Enduser nations thus need to verify the countries of origin for all mineral imports, and enforce laws relating to corporate complicity in crimes against humanity.

Corporate Social Responsibility and Political Will

The most important element in halting illegal resource exploitation relates to the political will of those actors and entities that support, protect, and benefit from conflict trade. As has been argued here, multinational corporations profit a great deal from conflict trade and from allowing armed groups access to markets and resource wealth. From an international standpoint, these companies should be the frontline actors involved in reducing and regulating conflict trade, according to the rules of corporate social responsibility.

Using the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a starting point, multinational corporations should investigate how they directly and indirectly contribute to human rights abuses. Companies should be responsible for researching the conflict background and current situation of the country in which they wish to operate. Information and knowledge is essential to understanding their own operations in an effort to maintain transparency. These companies must familiarize themselves with the sociopolitical context of national and international human rights laws and treaties. If a company chooses to operate in a conflict area after becoming fully aware of the situation there, and the potential implications of doing so, it cannot claim ignorance as an excuse for indirect involvement in any crimes against humanity that may result.

Corporate accountability should be based on the OECD guidelines. According to these guidelines, companies must: respect the human rights of those affected by their activities; contribute to economic, social, and environmental progress with a view towards achieving sustainable development; encourage business partners to apply principles of corporate conduct compatible with the guidelines; and contribute to the abolition of all forms of compulsory labor.59 Codes of conduct should be implemented in accordance with international and national law, and companies should also seek external assistance as needed to oversee the implementation of labor, safety, and environmental regulations. By establishing favorable working conditions, companies can positively contribute to overall economic wellbeing, thus limiting one of the driving sources of conflict in the DRC and elsewhere.

The media can play a role in encouraging corporate social responsibility by increasing public awareness and encouraging a commitment to fair pricing on the part of miners, traders, government officials, and others involved in setting prices on the global market, including consumers. Though currently it does not have the mandate to monitor conflict goods, the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC (MONUC) could also potentially contribute by being an outlet for civil society monitoring.


While economic exploitation has long been a reality in the area that is now the DRC, globalization and accompanying trends such as market liberalization and privatization have made illegal resource exploitation more profitable for more actors than was previously the case. Armed rebel forces that established regional political authority by monopolizing violence and subjugating the population now collude with multinational corporations to profit from the trade in conflict goods. Certainly, international trade has provided rebels and the central government with the resources needed to continue war, and promoted the creation of regional and national networks that have perpetuated the violence in the DRC. Multinational corporations must acknowledge their complicity in perpetuating and prolonging conflict—even if only indirectly—and in concert with the international community, work to reduce and regulate the trade in conflict goods in the DRC. Only when armed groups are no longer able or inclined to profit from instability and conflict trade will there be prospects for a sustainable peace in the DRC.

Caitlin Dearing is a MA candidate in international affairs at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs, with a focus on conflict resolution and economic development in Francophone Africa. She will spend her final semester at Sciences Po in Paris researching FrancoAfrican relations.


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