Old and New Governance Approaches to Conflict Minerals

I.        Introduction

This article explores the role of new governance structures that have been utilized to address supply chain–related labor and human rights abuses.  More specifically, it examines the utility of multi-stakeholder fora to address such problems.  It argues that such multi-stakeholder fora, including multi-stakeholder initiatives, provide a number of advantages when addressing global supply chain–related issues, when compared to traditional command-and-control approaches.

The article then focuses on the issue of conflict minerals.[1] It describes the role that multi-stakeholder initiatives can play to help address the problem of conflict minerals, and the problem-solving advantages that a mix of actors can bring to the table.  The article notes that the composition and focus of such initiatives may vary, and must be carefully formulated if they are to address the challenging issue of conflict minerals.  Moreover, although multi-stakeholder approaches are potential mechanisms to help address the problem of conflict minerals, they are not sufficient.  Rather, the problem of conflict minerals is a subset of a wider political and economic breakdown, and demands that a complementary and interlocking web of new and old governance approaches be utilized.

The article posits that States, including not only those that are host to conflict minerals, but also concerned members of the international community, must play two critical roles to address conflicts funded by illicit mineral trading.  First, they must encourage “new governance” multi-stakeholder approaches to solving the commercial aspects of the conflicts, and they must play a stronger role in such multi-stakeholder initiatives than they typically might.  This, however, is not likely to be sufficient.  States must take on a second role.  The political and economic aspects of conflict mineral-funded warfare demand that States also utilize traditional international governance mechanisms such as imposing sanctions through the United Nations (U.N.); encouraging effective governance in conflict-affected countries; and providing development aid, such as that directed at alternative livelihoods and support of the legal mining sector.  In short, the most devolved, non-state-centric forms of new governance, such as multi-stakeholder initiatives, are unlikely to succeed in controlling the sale of conflict minerals, much less ending conflicts, without governments influencing the political situation and building capacity in the state suffering from conflict.

The article tests this theory by examining the Kimberley Process, a multi-stakeholder initiative formed to address conflict diamonds in which governments play a leading role.  It also examines the efforts thus far which are aimed at stopping the trade of conflict minerals from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  It identifies trends towards a multi-stakeholder approach to addressing the trade that funds the conflict.  It also notes that this is likely to prove insufficient on its own to address the problem, and highlights the need for governments to undertake more traditional roles.

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[1] The term “conflict minerals” is sometimes used to specifically address the four minerals from the eastern DRC that are believed to fund that conflict.  In this article, it is used more broadly, and encompasses other minerals that may fund conflicts, such as diamonds.