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A Rule Aimed at Warlords Upends African Mines

U.S. companies scramble to vouch for minerals mined in the Congo

Michael Loch’s job has just become much more complicated. In the past year, the director of supply chain corporate responsibility for Motorola Solutions has made two trips to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where rebel groups and government forces have been locked in a 15-year-long war that has killed millions and created a huge humanitarian crisis. Last month, Loch journeyed to a mine in southern Katanga province to comply with a new U.S. regulation that will soon require companies such as Motorola Solutions, Advanced Micro Devices, and Apple to make sure purchases of minerals commonly used to make electronic gear and gadgets—tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold—don’t financially benefit Congolese warlords.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is still drafting the regulation, a corporate social responsibility provision buried in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law (it’s right there in section 1502). It is expected to take effect later this year. However, the rule is already creating headaches for U.S. companies and is pulverizing Central Africa’s mining sector as companies delay purchases until they can vouch for the minerals. Loch traveled with Katanga’s local mining minister to certify that tantalum from the mine that Motorola Solutions, a maker of communications equipment for governments and businesses, wants to purchase was in no way connected to the Congo’s armed conflict. Production at the mine had all but stopped, idling workers who dig for ore with hand tools. “This was a non-conflict mine in a non-conflict area, but it was being harmed by the U.S. legislation,” Loch says.