EU Commission fails to address Western Saharan conflict minerals

A law proposed by the European Commission on responsible sourcing of minerals has been watered down to apply only to imports of processed and unprocessed tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. Accordingly, it will not include phosphate rock – occupied Western Sahara's white gold that Morocco is profiteering on.
Published: 05.03 - 2014 14:07Printer version    
Photo: the phosphate mines in Bou Craa in Western Sahara are exploited by the Moroccan government, which illegally occupies large parts of the territory. The revenues of the illegal trade end up in Morocco's treasury.

Read below an abstract from a press release put out today by a coalition of international NGOs, including Western Sahara Resource Watch. Read the full version of the press release here or here. The Commission's proposal is available here.

Proposed EU law will not keep conflict resources out of Europe, campaigners warn

A law proposed by the European Commission on responsible sourcing of minerals is not strong enough to prevent European companies’ mineral purchases from financing conflict or human rights abuses, and falls far short of expectations, campaigners said today.

Instead of putting forward robust legislation that would require a wide range of EU-based companies to do checks on their supply chains – known as due diligence – the Commission today announced voluntary measures that will only apply to companies importing processed and unprocessed minerals into the European market. The proposal covers companies involved in the tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold sectors. The campaigners warned that the Commission’s proposal – an opt-in scheme available to a limited number of companies – is likely to have minimal impact on the way that the majority of European companies source natural resources.

Sophia Pickles from Global Witness said: “The proposal is tantamount to the EU saying that it’s ok for companies to choose not to behave responsibly. This risks undermining the duty states have to protect human rights, which is well-established under international law. The proposal could even be redundant. EU governments have already endorsed voluntary due diligence guidance developed by the OECD.”

Legislation introduced in the United States in 2010 that requires US-listed companies to do checks on minerals coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighbouring countries has already prompted changes in the way that companies do business. Without a clear EU law that requires companies to do  due diligence – and report publicly on it – the European Commission will fail to bring EU companies up to the same responsible sourcing standards as their American competitors.

“It’s absolutely critical that the EU enforces existing international standards”, said Seema Joshi from Amnesty International.”  Anything short of a mandatory reporting obligation for EU-based companies using and trading natural resources, will fail to prevent Europe from acting as a conflict mineral trading hub. Nor will it ensure that European companies avoid causing or contributing to serious human rights abuses when sourcing from these high-risk areas.”

Campaigners expressed disappointment that the Commission’s proposal does not address other natural resources, but rather is limited to four minerals. “By focusing only on four minerals, the EU risks failing to address reports that other natural resources are also fuelling conflict”, said Astrid Schrama from Pax.

The European Parliament and Council are expected to vote on the proposal later this year.  At that time, parliamentarians and Member States must make it a priority to strengthen the legislation so that it is fit for purpose. The EU is otherwise set to remain a hub for a harmful trade.  

Signatories to the release:
ALBOAN ; AK Rohstoffe ; Amnesty International ; Association pour le Développement des Initiatives Paysannes, DRC (ASSODIP); Bread for All ; Burma Environmental Working Group; CCFD Terre-Solidaire; Commission on Natural Resources of the DRC Bishops’ Conference (CERN); Christian Aid; Coopération Internationale pour le Développement et la Solidarité (CIDSE); Congo Calling ; Centre for Research and Investigation into the Environment, Democracy and Human Rights, DRC (CREDDHO); Le Réseau européen pour l’Afrique Centrale (EurAc) ; EarthWorks; Enough Project; Friends of the Earth; Global Witness;, France; Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Germany; Info Birmanie; India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN); Jesuit European Social Centre (JESC); JRS; Commission Justice et Paix Belgique francophone; Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD); Global Ignatian Advocacy Network- Governance of Natural and Mineral Resources; Partnership Africa Canada; PAX, the Netherlands; Powershift, Germany; Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM), China; Save the Congo!; Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations, Netherlands (SOMO); Western Sahara Resource Watch.




Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
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