In October 2002, a United Nations Panel of Experts accused 85 OECD-based companies of violating the Guidelines for their direct or indirect roles in the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The Panel alleged that “elite networks” of political and military elites and businesspersons fueled the conflict in order to retain their control over the country’s vast natural resources. But is its final, October 2003 report, the Panel said that no further investigation was required into the activities of the US companies. However, the Panel did make clear that “resolution should not be seen as invalidating the Panel’s earlier findings with regard to the activities of these actors.”
Complaints were submitted in August 2004, because the US NCP had not assessed whether the companies has breached the Guidelines. The complaint also provided new information on the companies’ activities to the US NCP. In the case of OM Group, the complaint raised a new set of issues concerning the company’s Big Hill project.
Cabot Corporation – Boston-based Cabot Corporation, one of the world’s largest refiners of coltan, was listed in Annex III of the October 2002 report of the UN Expert Panel. Cabot denies knowingly having received ‘any illegal materials from the Congo’. A report by the Belgian Senate states that Eagle Wings Resources International had a long-term contract to supply Cabot with coltan.
Trinitech Holdings/Eagle Wings Resources International – Trinitech Holdings is the holding company for Ohio-based companies, Eagle Wings Resources LLC and Trinitech International, Inc. Eagle Wings Resources International (EWRI) is a joint venture between Dutch company, Chemie Pharmacie Holland BV (CPH) and Trinitech Holdings. The Panel stated that EWRI received privileged access to coltan sites and captive labour because of its close ties to the Rwandan military.
OM Group – Ohio-based OM Group’s joint venture with a Belgian national, George Forrest, Groupement pour le Traitement des Scories du Terril de Lumbumbashi, Ltd. (GTL) is accused by the Panel of deliberately ignoring technical agreements that provide for the construction of two electrical refineries and a converter for germanium processing in the DRC from the “Big Hill” project. Instead, semi-processed ore from the mine was shipped to OM Group’s processing facility in Finland, thereby depriving the state mining company, Gécamines, of millions of dollars in revenue. At issue is whether the complex corporate structure was intended to deny Gécamines the benefits of the future sales of minerals with significant commercial potential at a time when the country was at war and there was no functioning government or mining ministry to protect the interests of Gécamines and by extension, the Congolese people.
Separate to the Panel’s allegations concerning the Big Hill project, a World Bank environmental report raised concerns about the exploitation of radioactive minerals from concessions owned by Gécamines, such as the Shinkolobwe uranium mine. There is evidence that Societe pour le Traitement des Scories du Terril de Lubumbashi (STL) – a company created by GTL in 1997 – processed radioactive minerals to obtain cobalt at the company’s plant in Lubumbashi, which is situated close to a hospital. The Belgian Senate concluded that airborne and waterborne pollution could not be discounted. At issue is whether the measures in place at OMGroup’s plant in Lubumbashi were sufficient to prevent radioactive contamination of the Congolese workforce and whether the local population was exposed to unacceptably high risk of pollution from the operations of the plant.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
- Version 2000 Chapter II
- Version 2000 Chapter II Paragraph II.9
- Version 2000 Chapter III
- Version 2000 Chapter III Paragraph III.1
- Version 2000 Chapter III Paragraph III.2
- Version 2000 Chapter III Paragraph III.5 Subparagraph III.5.A
On August 23, 2004, the US NCP rejected the complaint on the grounds that the allegations “have not been adequately substantiated, denied by the firms concerned, and called into doubt by the party that originally made them”. The NCP stated it is “prepared to make further inquiries with the UN regarding the availability of any further information on the US firms mentioned in the UN Panel’s report”.
In a follow-up meeting in January 2005 in Washington, DC, the complainants provided the NCP with a copy of a contract between EWRI and RCD-Goma to export coltan from the eastern DRC. According to a report by the Belgian Senate, Eagle Wings Resources International had a long-term contract to supply Cabot with coltan. The Panel asserted in its October 2002 report that “no coltan exists from the eastern [DRC] without benefiting either the rebel group or foreign armies.”
In that meeting, the US NCP stated he had not sought additional information from the UN. The NCP offered to see if the companies would participate in an “informal” dialogue with RAID. When the complainants followed-up in September 2005, the US NCP confirmed that the companies had received his letter, but they never responded to his offer. The US NCP never addressed the Belgian Senate’s findings that Cabot Corporation had a long-term contract with EWRI and the additional evidence provided by the complaintants in this regard. In August 2006, RAID wrote to all the US companies asking whether the UN Panel’s allegations led to changes in business and management practices. No response has been received from any of the companies.