March 16, 2017

Letter to the Editor: Response to McCullough

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To the Editor:

On March 13, Irvin McCullough of the Cornell Republicans authored a well-reasoned letter advocating for the repeal of Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Rule and challenging the student-led campaign urging Cornell to make conflict mineral-free purchasing decisions. His myriad assertions deserve responses.

Contrary to McCullough’s claim that conflict-free initiatives have increased militia-led violence, evidence-based assessments attest to their achievement of the opposite outcome. According to reports from the Belgian research group IPIS, the implementation of Dodd-Frank’s conflict mineral regulations has coincided with most paramilitary-controlled mines becoming entirely conflict-free. A cluster of 41 civil society groups in North Kivu recently joined a total of 101 Congo-based human in unequivocally condemning the possible suspension of federally mandated conflict mineral audits, saying that the eastern Congo has U.S. government mandates to thank for increased security in the region. Their joint statement asserted that Dodd-Frank’s conflict minerals provision led to the establishment of “more than 220 certified green mining sites, more than 300 mining police officers trained and deployed to secure mining sites, an independent audit mechanism and a regional certification system” for the Congo’s mining sector.  Though some “unregulated mines” have endured, as  McCullough said, Dodd-Frank 1502 has spurred a “two-tier market” that rewards mines for providing conflict-free certifications and makes untraceable conflict minerals relatively unprofitable.

McCullough is correct in his assertion that some militia networks deprived of participation in the mining sector by conflict-free initiatives have turned to other outlets for violence. But he overlooks the broader contributions of conflict-free initiatives to the recent stabilization of the Congo, whose security situation was drastically worse prior to the implementation of Dodd-Frank 1502. There were previously dozens of prominent Rwandan-backed rebel groups that profited from conflict minerals and staged unspeakable acts of violence against civilians in mining areas. Now that audits have made a majority of mines verifiably conflict-free, there is no longer a single major Rwandan-backed armed group in the Congo. It is is well-documented that the FDLR and other major insurgent groups have been stripped of their economic power and are now barreling towards extinction. Corporate supply chains have been rendered more transparent at the same time, with 75 percent of the world’s smelters for the four conflict minerals having now passed independent audits.

McCullough also argues that the federal conflict minerals rule imposes a costly burden on the private sector. But there’s a reason that a coalition 127 U.S.-based investors representing nearly $5 trillion in assets publicly called on the Trump administration to extend Section 1502 of Dodd-Frank, arguing that the measure has catalyzed positive change in their supply chains and needs even more federal enforcement to achieve its maximum impact. U.S.-based firms increasingly understand that the answer to the conflict mineral rule’s shortcomings is not to abolish in its entirety, as McCullough and Trump would have it, but to strengthen its enforcement provisions.

Section 1502 was intended not to be an a ”silver bullet” solution to end violence in the Congo, but rather a progressive step to improve conditions there. To repeal it would reverse its many progresses, outlined above, and almost guarantee the reinvigoration of regional militia networks. A recently released open letter signed by 31 Congolese civil society leaders, experts, and former ambassadors reads: “It is time for another broader push for reform on conflict minerals and natural resource governance in order to complement the Dodd-Frank legislation and deepen related minerals reforms. Dodd-Frank has been the primary driver of corporate and regional policy change on conflict minerals.” Prominent American investors have echoed this sentiment because they embrace that U.S. companies have made both reputational and economic gains from cleaning up their supply chains, and realize that there is further progress to be made. Besides, an independent 2017 study by ELM Sustainability Partners found that the cost of complying with the Dodd-Frank 1502 has cost U.S. businesses 74-85 percent less than the initial SEC estimate of $3-4 billion. The rule has been both financially manageable for affected firms and materially effective for people in the eastern Congo.

It is deeply regrettable that the Trump administration plans to repeal Dodd-Frank 1502, and we believe that this forthcoming reactionary measure underscores the need for powerful institutions to confirm companies’ conflict-free statuses before renewing or finalizing contracts with them. But even if the government reverses those plans, we still urge Cornell University to independently participate in the international campaign to curb militia violence through conflict mineral-free purchasing decisions.

In the coming weeks, we encourage the student body to carefully weigh the arguments both for and against the forthcoming resolution, “Prescribing Conflict-Free University Contracts.” We hope that the Student Assembly and the campus community at large ultimately heed Congolese civil society’s resounding calls for conflict-free initiatives by supporting it.

Christopher Hanna ‘18

On behalf of Amnesty International at Cornell University

Helen Shanahan ‘18

On behalf of Amnesty International at Cornell University

Matthew Indimine ‘18

EVP, Student Assembly

Paul Russell ‘19

Co-chair, Student Assembly Policy Research and Planning Committee

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