Home » UN Warns of Congo Conflict’s Impact on Global Metal Trade

UN Warns of Congo Conflict’s Impact on Global Metal Trade

Eastern Congo's Unrest May Affect Global Supply of Critical Metals

by Ikeoluwa Ogungbangbe

The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is increasingly threatening the global trade of essential metals such as gold, tin, and tantalum, according to a recent report by United Nations experts. The continued unrest and the involvement of armed groups in the mining sectors are raising serious concerns about the integrity of supply chains that feed into the global electronics and jewelry industries.

The DRC, along with neighboring Rwanda, is a critical supplier of tantalum—a vital component in portable electronics—and together they provided over 60% of the world’s supply in 2023. However, the current situation in the eastern part of Congo, where multiple armed groups have seized control of major mining sites, including one of the world’s largest tantalum ore sites in Rubaya, poses a significant risk. The UN experts’ report highlights that these sites have now become ineligible for trade under the due diligence guidelines established by the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, set up by the UN Security Council.

These guidelines were created to prevent the international trade of minerals from funding conflict and human rights abuses in the region. Gregory Mthembu-Salter, one of the architects of these guidelines, pointed out that any violations involving the financing of conflict actors through mineral trade are subject to sanctions by the UN Security Council.

Despite these measures, the experts’ report indicates that the effectiveness of both the UN’s standards and related conflict-mineral laws in the United States and European Union have been limited. The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Congo has worsened, with millions displaced by the conflict, which remains one of the deadliest in the world.

Illicit mineral trading is also a significant issue, with much of Congo’s mineral output clandestinely crossing into neighboring countries such as Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. From there, these minerals enter major international markets and eventually find their way into consumer products worldwide. Gold, particularly, due to its high value and ease of smuggling in small quantities, has become a critical source of revenue for armed groups in the region. The report notes that in the northeastern Ituri province, the exploitation and trade of gold continue to be a major enrichment avenue for both armed groups and some members of the Congolese army. Similarly, in South Kivu province, armed factions control most of the gold trade.

The situation is further complicated by the Congolese army’s involvement, where resources and personnel are reportedly diverted from combating armed groups to protecting private interests in the mining sector. With over 100 armed factions active in eastern Congo, the battle for control over land, resources, political influence, and security is intense.

In response to the UN report, the U.S. State Department issued a statement urging companies to intensify monitoring of their supply chains that involve minerals from Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. The statement acknowledged that while it is still possible to source minerals responsibly from the region, there appears to be a relaxation in the stringent due diligence efforts previously emphasized by many companies.

The U.S. has called for increased engagement and reform efforts from all stakeholders involved in the mineral trade, from extraction to final sale. This includes enhancing the transparency and accountability of industry-led mineral tracing systems, which are currently flawed and contribute to the ongoing problems in the region.

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