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Common Sense on Conflict Minerals

LONDON – “That diamond upon your finger, say how came it yours?” asks Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. “Thou’lt torture me,” responds the villainous Iachimo, “to leave unspoken that which, to be spoke, would torture thee.” The story behind certain parts of the global trade in natural resources today, whether spoken or not, is no less a source of anguish.

Natural resources should be a major contributor to development in some of the countries that need it most. And yet, in some of world’s poorest and most fragile states, they bring just the opposite. In many of these countries, the trade in natural resources motivates, funds, and prolongs conflict and egregious human-rights abuses. Resources such as diamonds, gold, tungsten, tantalum, and tin are mined, smuggled, and illegally taxed by violent armed groups, and provide off-budget funding to abusive militaries and security services.

Consider just four African countries: Sudan, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Together, these resource-rich countries account for just over 13% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa, but some 55% of the region’s internally displaced persons (and one in five worldwide) due to conflict. But the problem is global, with similar patterns in parts of countries such as Colombia, Myanmar, and Afghanistan.

The deadly trade in conflict resources is facilitated by supply chains that feed major consumer markets, such as the European Union and the United States, with cash flowing back the other way. Natural resources, such as tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold – all minerals that have been linked in some parts of the world to conflict and human-rights abuses – are found in our jewelry, cars, mobile phones, games consoles, medical equipment, and countless other everyday products.