Socialist and Democrat Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) achieved an historic victory in Strasbourg this afternoon (Wednesday 20 May 2015), narrowly passing a vote that will ensure the European Union (EU) no longer trades in minerals that fuel conflict and violence.
For years the extraction, production and trade of minerals such as gold and tin have financed conflicts in some of the poorest regions of the world and lined the pockets of armed groups and military forces that have perpetuated unimaginable violence and human rights abuses. With very few rules in place to prevent these minerals from making their way to the UK and EU, they can be found everywhere across Member States, hidden in the jewellery we wear and the mobile phones we use every day.
Today marks an important first step in removing conflict minerals from the EU market and ensuring that we no longer have blood on our hands.
The EU has long led the way in legislating to guarantee traceability across food and natural resource supply chains and to prevent the entry of blood diamonds and illegal timber into the European market. Minerals will now be added to that list, bringing us closer to achieving our aim of promoting fair trade, protecting human rights and helping alleviate conflicts across the world.
Socialists and Democrats in the Parliament refused to accept a scheme proposed by the European Commission that was startling in its lack of ambition and scope, and which would have left EU legislation on the trade of minerals seriously lagging behind that of our American counterparts. We were not prepared to settle for an ineffectual system of voluntary compliance. We rejected legislation that limited regulation to importers, so excluding 99.95% of EU companies that trade or process such minerals and exposing EU smelters and refiners to unfair competition from unregulated companies operating outside of Europe.
Our proposals sought to make due diligence mandatory for all key companies involved in the minerals trade, from smelters to retailers, while taking into account their size and position in the supply chain. We also proposed a mechanism to expand the material scope of the regulation beyond gold and the '3Ts' (tin, tantalum and tungsten) in the future so that if a new mineral or metal is found to be linked with conflict and violence, it too will be included on the list of resources subject to EU legislation.
We know that it is only by applying rules equally across the entire supply chain, from mine to end product, that we can truly remove conflict minerals from the EU market, while at the same time ensure fairness and avoid a negative impact on jobs and economic development. This belief is backed by the hundreds of emails my Labour colleagues and I have received from concerned constituents urging MEPs to act.
The European Labour Party has, backed by our progressive colleagues, worked for months to build consensus among MEPs, supported by campaign groups, NGOs and churches active in Africa's great lakes region. Despite an uncompromising opposition from right wing factions in the European Parliament, who sought to block legislation at any cost, our hard work has paid off: we managed to convince enough MEPs to break ranks and put the promotion of human rights, peace and stability above profit margins.
The fight, however, is not yet over: we now need to get the support of a majority of the EU's 28 Member States before this important piece of legislation can be enacted. I hope that our own UK government will find itself on the principled side of this argument.
Jude Kirton-Darling is Labour MEP for the North East of England