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 fuelled the conflict in order to retain their control over the country’s vast natural resources.
Global Witness’ complaint alleges that Afrimex’s trade in minerals contributed directly to the brutal conflict and large-scale human rights abuses in the DRC.
During the DRC’s conflict, the RCD-Goma, an armed rebel group with a well-documented record of carrying out grave human rights abuses including massacres of civilians, torture and sexual violence, controlled large parts of the eastern provinces of North and South Kivu, where many metals and minerals are mined.The complaint describes how Afrimex traded coltan and cassiterite (tin ore) and made tax payments to the RCD-Goma. The complaint also highlights the life-threatening conditions in cassiterite mines and the use of forced labour and child labour.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
- Version 2000 Chapter II
- Version 2000 Chapter II Paragraph II.1
- Version 2000 Chapter II Paragraph II.10
- Version 2000 Chapter II Paragraph II.11
- Version 2000 Chapter II Paragraph II.2
- Version 2000 Chapter IV
- Version 2000 Chapter IV Paragraph IV.1 Subparagraph IV.1.A
- Version 2000 Chapter IV Paragraph IV.1 Subparagraph IV.1.B
- Version 2000 Chapter IV Paragraph IV.4 Subparagraph IV.4.B
- Version 2000 Chapter VI
- Version 2000 Chapter VI Paragraph VI.2
- Version 2000 Chapter VI Paragraph VI.6
- Version 2000 Chapter X
- Version 2000 Chapter X Paragraph X.0
As part of the initial assessment in May 2007, the UK NCP held separate meetings with the parties. In the meeting with Global Witness, the NCP asked a number of detailed questions related to the complaint. Global Witness responded to the questions in the meeting and in a follow-up letter. In September 2007, the UK NCP issued its initial assessment announcing that it would accept the complaint. Global Witness and Afrimex then entered the process of mediation and held several NCP-mediated meetings in October and November 2007.
Eventually, in January 2008, Afrimex decided to withdraw from the mediation, and the NCP began an investigation into the facts. The investigation was concluded in May 2008, and the NCP invited both parties to submit final comments. In August 2008, the NCP issued its final statement, concluding that Afrimex did not comply with Chapter II (General Policies) and Chapter IV (Employment and Industrial Relations) of the Guidelines. The NCP did not uphold the allegations that Afrimex failed to fulfil Chapter VI (Combating Bribery).
Throughout the period that the NCP was investigating the case in 2007 and 2008, Afrimex continued buying minerals fromeastern DRC. Furthermore, one of the company’s main suppliers was cited by the UN Group of Experts as trading inminerals produced by the FDLR, one of the main armed groups in eastern DRC. It is not clear if Afrimex is continuing its activities as the company has not provided information to the NCP on how, or even if, it implements the recommendations in the NCP’s final statement.
In February 2009, Global Witness wrote to Afrimex asking, among other things, for an update on the company’s progress in implementing the NCP’s recommendations.In March 2009, Afrimex replied to the NCP stating that it had stopped trading in minerals and that its last shipment of minerals left the DRC in around the first week of September 2008. Global Witness is urging the UK government to carry out an independent verification of Afrimex’s claim that it has ceased trading in minerals.
The complainants have asked the UK government to put forward Afrimex and its directors to the UN Sanctions Committee, but this has not yet been done. The Afrimex case highlights the problem as to what should happen when a company has been found to have breached the Guidelines, but no follow up steps are taken to monitor its adherence to the final statement and recommendations. Even though the UK NCP’s final statement was clear, it has not triggered any further action by the British government.