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The Vile Scramble for Loot: How British corporations are fuelling war in the DR Congo April 09, 2010

WATCHING THE CORPORATIONS

The Vile Scramble for Loot: How British corporations are fuelling war in the DR Congo

Over the last 150 years, what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo has been subject to vast and destabilising resource expropriation at the hands of European capitalism since Belgian King Leopold II’s conquest in 1885 (a brief overview of this history can be found in appendix 4). This exploitation still continues to this day. The DRC is suffering from a war, often referred to as Africa's World War, that is almost certainly the worst in the world. This war is largely the result of the exploitation of the DRC’s rich resources by foreign corporations, which fund 'warlords' from the DRC and surrounding countries and the army to give them access to cheap minerals. The war and exploitation in DR Congo, principally at the hands of the imperial powers of Europe and the United States, is the latest stage of the Maafa (African Holocaust) in DRC and, like the other stages, it is truly devastating. British companies, such as Afrimex, Anglo American, and the Amalgamated Metal Corporation and others have played an instrumental role in this exploitation, Robert Miller writes.

The Spoils of War

The suffering resulting from this war has been truly staggering. In its 2007 study of mortality rates in the DRC, the International Rescue Committee estimated that, as a result of the war, “5.4 million excess deaths have occurred between August 1998 and April 2007.” The IRC report also estimated that the “DR Congo’s national crude mortality rate (CMR) of 2.2 deaths per 1,000 per month is 57 percent higher than the average rate for sub-Saharan Africa.”, and in eastern provinces, which are the most unstable, the CMR is “2.6 deaths per 1,000 per month, a rate that is 85 percent higher than the sub-Saharan average.”1

According to the British charity Save the Congo, “You could take all lives lost in Bosnia, Rwanda 1994 and Darfur then add the 2005 Asian tsunami, then add a 9-11 every single day for 356 days and then go through Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Put all of those together, multiply by 2 and you still don’t reach the number of lives [...] lost in the DRC since the war started.” The charity also reported that in Eastern DRC, “[hundreds of thousands] of women and young girls have been brutally gang raped and around 40% of all adult women have been made widows.”2

The Democratic Republic of Congo has the highest proportion of starving people in the world, according to the 2008 Global Hunger Index, which ranked the DRC as 42.7. That is an increase from 25.5 (which is still ranked as “alarming”) in 1990.3 People often have to carry “more than their own body-weight in wood or coal or sand, all day, every day” just to make enough money to survive. Men and women in the DRC have life expectancies of 42 and 47 years respectively, making an average life expectancy of 44 years. One in five children die before the age of five and maternal mortality runs at a rate of 990 per 100,000 live births.4 The struggle of people to survive despite the costs is immense and many are forced to work all day, in dangerous conditions, just to have a chance of feeding themselves and their families. The Congolese workers have been extremely resilient in the face of the massive exploitation that European powers have brought to them, but there is only so much that they can take.

In the DRC, “since 1998, as many as 85 percent of those living near the front lines [of the war] have been affected by violence” and in Eastern DRC, which is the main area of fighting, mortality rates are “one third higher than the rest of the DRC”,5 where mortality rates are already terrible. But how did all of this happen?

The War

The war in the DRC is now fundamentally a war for minerals with its origins in a war for power resulting from the ousting of the dictator Mobutu and the legacy of the Rwandan genocide. It is largely the result of corporations and states in the core nations of the capitalist world system funding armed groups, as well as the state, in order to access the cheap natural resources and cheap labour that are abundant in the DRC. Many of armed groups, which are descended from the struggle over Mobutu's successor and from the proxy armies of neighbouring countries, would not continue to exist for so long, and the state would not be so predatoryhad it not been for the western corporate interests. The demand for these resources has led to competition among collaborationist elite groups -in the DRC and the surrounding areas- to control the natural resources and share in the spoils of exploitation.

The (second) Congo war began in 1998 when Uganda and Rwanda invaded the DRC (named Zaire until 1997), launching “a bloody military offensive to overthrow [Congolese president] Laurent Kabila.” The offensive failed but Rwanda and Uganda stayed in the DRC to take advantage of the rich resources of the country. They were soon joined by Burundi, Angola, Namibia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, as well as dozens of home grown militia groups and private armies who wanted a piece of the spoils. “In 2002 and 2003 … Rwanda and Uganda, after intense international pressure, decided to withdraw from Congo but each, however, leaving behind dozens of armed groups they had created and trained while occupying the Congo.”6 There are now armed groups in many areas, particularly in Katanga, Ituri and North and South Kivu. Many have different loyalties and compete to gain access to the riches beneath the ground and share in the profits of the foreign corporations by collaborating with them. Global Witness has said that, “[t]he minerals scattered all over North and South Kivu have acted as a magnet for rebel groups and military factions throughout the last 12 years.”7 The Panel of Experts at the UN reported in 2001 that, “the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has become mainly about access, control and trade of five key mineral resources: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold.”8 The same report stated that, “the role of the private sector in the exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the war has been vital. A number of companies have been involved and have fuelled the war directly, trading arms for natural resources. Others have facilitated access to financial resources, which are used to purchase weapons. Companies trading minerals, which the Panel considered to be “'the engine of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’, have prepared the field for illegal mining activities in the country.”9

Many of the DRC military factions and rebel groups are known for their extreme brutality. This has been expedient for foreign corporations, since extreme brutality is often needed to repress the population sufficiently for the level of exploitation that the capitalist world-system demands. The largest and most predominant groups are the Forces Démocratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR), a predominately Hutu group from Rwanda; the Congrés National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP), a predominately Tutsi rebel group supported by the Rwandan government; the Patriotes Résistants Congolaise (PARECO), a group formally allied with the FDLR and now the national army; various Mai-Mai groups who fight alongside the Congolese army in North and South Kivu; the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), the Congolese national army.

All of the groups listed above, as well as a few others such as the FNI (discussed later), have been accused of grave human rights offences. Murder and rape are all too common; there are huge numbers of child soldiers in the DRC: Control Arms reports that “about 30,000 to 35,000 children have been recruited” by armed groups since the start of the war.

The DRC is probably the richest country in the world in terms of natural resources; it is “the only country on earth that houses all elements found on the periodic table.”10 As such, it is persistently a site of fierce exploitation. “The Congo possesses over 80 per cent of the world's reserve of coltan”11 and has vast amounts of casserite (tin ore), gold, wolframite, pyrochlore, diamonds, clays, copper, cobalt, gas, nickel, oil, tungstone, zinc, iron, kaolin, niobium, ochre, bauxite, marble, phosphates, saline, granite, emerald, monazite, silver, uranium, platinum and lead. Army and militia groups are able to survive principally, if not solely, because of their control over such resources and mines. As well as being the driving force behind the current war, resource expropriation has also been the driving force behind over a century of colonialism that impoverished the DRC so greatly and engendered the Maafa generally (see Appendix 4).

The rebel groups use their control over the natural resources to gain profit and power through collaboration with corporations. Global Witness believes that “the profits they make through this plunder enable some of the most violent armed groups to stay alive.”12 Collaborationist groups are only able to survive through plunder, so they must continue their exploitation for the profit of the foreign corporations, which encourage this dependency by giving the warlords a share in the profits of exploitation or exchange resources for money and arms. Without this money, groups would not be able to recruit soldiers. According to the UNICEF, “the militias [...] are offering … $60-a-month to carry on seizing and raping and killing” and, when people are starving, many will accept anything in order to keep their families alive.13 The war is mainly fought to keep control over the mines and is mainly funded through profits made by that mining.

Corporations all around the world, including those in Britain, are trading for these minerals and are making a huge profit from and, by extension, engendering the warring factions’ exploitation of people in DRC. If it wasn’t for this trade, it is extremely unlikely that the war would be able to continue, as it is providing the profits that allow the warring groups to continue, as well as giving them the incentive to compete with other groups for the control of resources and to exploit the Congolese workers. But the profits made from these minerals - especially coltan, which is needed for electronics such as mobile phones, computers and televisions - are too great for the corporations to ignore.

By trading for these minerals, a whole host of foreign corporations fund and instigate the extremely brutal crimes of the DRC warring factions. This report now focuses on corporations in Britain and how they are fuelling the war and human rights abuses in the DRC. The warring factions in the DRC are guilty of numerous crimes against humanity and the corporations that fund them, in order to trigger and facilitate the exploitation that leads to these crimes, are equally guilty. They should all be put on trial for their crimes.

The Trail

There is a long and complicated money trail that goes from the DRC to the UK and back again. Minerals start off with the warring factions that control the mines. From there they go to comptoirs (trading houses) and on to foreign corporations, where they get made into products, such as laptops or rings, which consumers in the west buy. Then the warring factions use the money that they have made from the mines to buy weapons from foreign corporations or the governments of countries neighbouring the DRC. So the money goes from the corporations, to the comptoirs, to the warlords and back to the corporations, through the comptoirs. In effect, the corporations have distanced themselves from the impact of their crimes by outsourcing them to others; profits accrue to corporations involved, but officially the necessary exploitation is committed by others, conveniently enabling them to plead ignorance of crimes they instigate. This trail also leads to double profits for corporations, since they make profits not only on the buying of cheap natural resources that they then sell for inflated prices, but also on the selling of the arms that their mercenaries use to gain control of the natural resources and exploit the workers’ in order to make the resources cheaper and, thus, attract corporate subsidies.

Warring and Mining

The whole process begins with the rebel groups who control the mines on behalf of the corporations that fund them. Global Witness reports that, “[i]n many parts of the provinces of North and South Kivu [the main zones of conflict], armed groups and the Congolese national army control the trade in cassiterite (tin ore), gold, columbite-tantalite (coltan), wolframite (a source of tungsten) and other minerals.”14 A report by the UN Security Council, produced by the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, concludes that “more than 90 per cent of minerals arriving at the Lulingu airstrip come from FDLR-controlled areas” and that “FDLR controls the majority of the principal artisanal mining sites in South Kivu, which are mostly cassiterite, gold and coltan mines.”15 This control over the mines is the main source of revenue for the warlords and the only thing keeping the groups and their 'trading' going. The warlords, thus, serve not as independent groups vying for power but as mercenaries for the foreign corporations, making them profits in order to be allowed to keep some of the spoils for themselves and consequently expand their power. Thus, the most ruthless groups are empowered and other groups are forced to become more ruthless in order to carry out enough exploitation to meet the needs of their colonial 'masters'.

The UN Group of Experts estimates that “FDLR is reaping profits worth millions of dollars a year from the trade in minerals from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, in particular cassiterite, gold, coltan and wolframite.”16 As noted earlier in this report, it is unlikely that the rebel groups would be able to survive without the income from controlling the mines. Their ability to recruit soldiers would diminish and they would not have the funds to continue their activities. The Group of Experts at the UN has reported that “the principal method used by FDLR to raise funds is through illegal trade of mineral resources”.17 A Congolese government official told Global Witness that “at least 90% of gold exports were undeclared.”18 Undeclared goods are almost certainly under the control of armed groups and statistics are probably similar for other minerals. The Group Of Experts “believes that it is not in the interest of certain FARDC commanders to end the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as long as their units are able to deploy to, and profit from, mining areas.”19 The same surely applies for the other armed groups, including the government. In 2002, the Group of Experts at the UN wrote that “no coltan exits from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo without benefiting either the rebel groups or foreign armies.”20 These rebel groups all have terrible human rights records, which have been well documented by the sources given in this report.

Conditions for mining in the DRC are brutally exploitative. Global Witness reports that “in the course of plundering these minerals, rebel groups and the Congolese army have used forced labour (often in extremely harsh and dangerous conditions), carried out systematic extortion and imposed illegal “taxes” on the civilian population. They have also used violence and intimidation against civilians who attempt to resist working for them or handing over the minerals they produce.” On top of this, “the minerals are dug by hand, or with very basic tools, by civilians known as artisanal miners. These miners work in extremely harsh conditions, without training, equipment or protection; fatal accidents and serious injuries occur regularly.” The report also states that the artisanal miners “are the first to suffer exploitation and human rights abuses at the hands of warring parties and derive few, if any, benefits from working in these conditions,” since most of the work is slave labour or, if it is paid, then it is paid very poorly.21

In a 2005 report entitled The Curse of Gold, Human Rights Watch documented many horrible human rights abuses that gold mining had wrought on people in the DRC, including “widespread ethnic slaughter, executions, torture, rape and arbitrary arrest … organized forced community labour … beatings, and other forms of cruel and degrading treatment,” among many others. The report states that “soldiers and armed group leaders, seeing control of the gold mines as a way to money, guns, and power, have fought each other ruthlessly, often targeting civilians in the process.” The report opens by quoting a Congolese gold miner as saying, "We are cursed because of our gold. All we do is suffer. There is no benefit to us."22

Comptoirs

Once mined, the minerals go from the warlords to the comptoirs. These are trading houses, mainly based in Goma and Bukavu, the capitals of North and South Kivu respectively. They are hired by foreign corporations as a middleman in their trade with the warlords so that their trade seems clean. The comptoirs buy minerals from all over North and South Kivu, then sell the minerals onto (mostly) foreign companies. Global Witness reports that “officially register[ed] comptoirs are required to obtain a licence from the Ministry of Mines. Thereafter, they are operating ‘legally’, at least from a technical point of view … The comptoirs’ official status has allowed them to claim a certain legitimacy. This in turn has enabled foreign purchasers who buy minerals from them to claim that they buy only from ‘legal’ sources.”23 So, in effect, the comptoirs act as middlemen between the foreign corporations and the armed groups, allowing the foreign corporations to claim that they are only buying from legitimate, legal sources, when they are actually –albeit indirectly – buying from the warlords. A representative of a comptoir told Global Witness that, “we all end up buying minerals which, in some way, have been produced illegally.”24

The Group of Experts at the UN has identified several comptoirs in Bukavu as “directly complicit in pre-financing negociants, who in turn work closely with FDLR.” These companies, according to the Group of Experts, are Group Olive, Etablissement Muyeye, MDM, World Mining Company (WMC) and Panju. “These companies are the top five exporters of cassiterite, coltan and wolframite from South Kivu, according to 2007 Government statistics, and are explicitly licensed to export minerals by the Government.”25

In short, the mineral trail from Eastern Congo is a complicated web, in which it is almost impossible to avoid buying from – and thereby funding – armed groups, even if you are buying from 'legal' comptoirs. This web was purposely set up this way, in order to hide the true source of cheap minerals and for corporations to be able to claim that they are not exploiting people in the DRC or trading illegally.

Foreign Corporations

From the comptoirs, the minerals then go to foreign corporations and they are traded through a host of different corporations until a product is complete. The trail gets convoluted and hard to follow here but attempts have been made. The UN Group of Experts has obtained “official documents that show that in 2007, the only importers of cassiterite and coltan from Olive, Muyeye, WMC and MDM [some of the comptoirs found to be directly complicit in financing FDLR] were the Belgian company Taxys, and the United Kingdom-based company Afrimex.”26 But this is only from 4 out of the approximately 40 licensed comptoirs in North and South Kivu, most of whom are probably involved with one or another armed group, and covers only 2 out of the DRC’s many resources. Other corporations mentioned in the UN report as having financed rebel groups include Gold Link Burundi, Farrel Trade and Investment Corporation and Emirates Gold. The report states that “cassiterite, coltan and wolframite are officially exported through companies based in Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, Hong Kong (China), India, Malaysia, Thailand, Rwanda, South Africa, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland … Gold is smuggled out mainly through neighbouring countries and principally into the United Arab Emirates and Europe.”27

This involvement has even been admitted at high levels of governments. For example, a US parliamentary subcommittee was told that “the United States military ha[d] been covertly involved in the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Wayne Madsen, an intelligence specialist who appeared before the US House subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, said that American companies, “including one linked to former President George Bush Snr” were involved in exploiting the Congo for profit.28

In 2001, the Group of Experts at the UN made their original report on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In that report they gave a list of “companies importing minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo via Rwanda” with data collected from the Rwanda Revenue authority29. This list is reprinted in Appendix 1. The companies based in the UK that the UN accuses are Afrimex and Ventro Star.

Since these are only the companies that have been trading through Rwanda and only the ones documented by the Rwanda Revenue Authority it is only a small sample of the corporations exploiting minerals from the DRC, but it is indicative of how many are involved.

Global Witness reports that, “companies registered in Belgium accounted for the largest proportion of cassiterite, wolframite and coltan imports from North and South Kivu in 2007 and from North Kivu from January to September 2008,” and that, “after these Belgian companies, the largest buyers of cassiterite from North and South Kivu in 2007” included the Thailand Smelting and Refining Corporation (THAISARCO) which is owned by the large British metals company Amalgamated Metal Corporation (AMC) Group, and Afrimex which is based in the UK. THAISARCO was among the largest buyers of coltan and THAISARCO and Afrimex were among the largest buyers for wolframite.30

In another report31 in 2002, the Panel of Experts listed 85 “business enterprises considered by the panel to be in violation of the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises”. The table has been reproduced here in Appendix 2.32 The companies based in the UK that appear on this list are: A. Knight International Ltd; A & M Minerals and Metals Ltd; Alex Stewart (Assayers) Ltd; Amalgamated Metal Corporation Plc; Anglo American Plc; Arctic Investment; Barclays Bank; Das Air; De Beers; Euromet; and Mineral Afrika Ltd.

This list is not complete and is from 2002 so it is doubtful that it is still entirely accurate. Many companies may have stopped and many may have begun since then. Yet, regardless of whether they continue their activities, the listed companies profited from and fueled the conflict by their earlier involvement.. The list also still provides an indicative picture. As you can see, there is a huge web of corporations that are guilty of instigating, exacerbating and profiting from the conflict in the DRC. When you take into account other businesses that trade with these corporations the list grows exponentially. There is very little information on this but Congo Week has compiled a list of companies profiting indirectly from the conflict (i.e. purchasing minerals that have originally come from the warlords).33 These companies are Sony, Microsoft, Panasonic, Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson, Intel, AVN, NEC, Alcatel, Compaq, Dell, AMD, Nintendo, IBM, Hitachi, Samsung, Pioneer and Kenwood. These are nowhere near the totality of companies profiting indirectly from the war: the trade web for these materials is so complex and often obscure that it may well involve a majority of corporations using any material that can be found in the DRC.

The Arms Trade

The final step in the trail is the sale of weapons from international arms companies to the warring factions in the DRC, in effect subsidizing the warlords to carry on with their exploitation and human rights abuses. The warring factions use the money they have acquired from selling minerals to buy these weapons. A UN report indicated “that the Congolese government used revenues from diamond sales to purchase weapons.”34 Control Arms reports that “50 to 60 per cent of the weapons used in the DRC are AK-47s or derivatives of it; but other rifles have reportedly come from Germany, France, the UK, and other countries.” The same report also states that nearly all arms in the DRC “were manufactured outside Africa.”35

A 2005 report by Amnesty International states that, “following the signing of the DRC peace accords in the second half of 2002, a series of armed flights were carried out from Tirana, Albania to Kigali … these inter-continental deliveries involved up to 400 tonnes of munitions, and involved companies from Albania, Israel, Rwanda, South Africa and the United Kingdom.”36 The same report states that “Amnesty International has found that three of the companies in these five arms deliveries operated from the UK – African International Airways (Crawley, West Sussex), Intavia Ltd (Crawley and Gatwick), and Platnium Air Cargo (Egham, Surrey).”37

In 2003, Mark Curtis reported that, “Britain continued arms exports to Zimbabwe after August 1998, when it intervened in DRC’s civil war. From this point on, Zimbabwe supplied Hawk aircraft to devastating effect.”38 Zimbabwe is no longer involved in the war in the DRC but its presence greatly exacerbated the conflict while it was there. In the same year the Independent reported that, “BAE Systems, the UK's largest defence company, is targeting exports of civil aerospace equipment to trouble spots like the Democratic Republic of Congo”.39 The Group of Experts at the UN has accused British Aerospace (now BAE) of providing arms to the DRC. They wrote that Aviation Consultancy Services Company, which “represents British Aerospace” and others, has helped “mediate sales of British Aerospace military equipment to the Democratic Republic of Congo.”40 The Campaign Against the Arms Trade has reported that between 1998 and 2009 the British government approved 78 export licenses for arms exports to the DRC.41 The figures used are cited from a part of the Foreign Office website that appears to have been taken down since. The report does not say which corporations were given the licences.

The British state has effectively been using the Congolese Army as a mercenary force in order to gain cheap minerals and labour for British corporations, which have bought minerals from it. It has also financed the DRC government’s paramilitary arm, the FARDC. The Ministry of Defence proudly reported recently that, “UK Defence personnel are playing a key role in helping to ensure FARDC, the Armed Forces of the DRC, has the skills needed to act as guarantors for the country's security,” and that, “as part of that initiative, MOD personnel are helping develop GESEM, FARDC's officer training school in the country's capital, Kinshasa.” The DRC defence minister, Chikez Diemu, and Deputy Head of the British Embassy, Terence Robins, recently said that, "By providing internationally recognised training and first class training facilities, the UK is contributing to development of a well-trained FARDC".42

This is further instigating and exacerbating the conflict as the FARDC and the Congolese army are both integral parts of the conflict in the DRC. A recent report by Human Rights Watch has documented the abuses of the FARDC and the Congolese Army, among other groups.43 The UN Group of Experts has also noted this repeatedly. Global Witness reports that FARDC “are notorious for committing human rights abuses,” that “civilians have been arrested and tortured for not complying with soldiers’ orders to work for them,” and that “forced labour occurs in some cases.”44 Conditions in the mines run by the FARDC in Walikale, North Kivu, are abysmal – see the case study on Afrimex for information on the conditions in FARCC-run mines.

Just like other corporations that are funding the armed groups in the DRC, the arms companies that are supplying weapons to the DRC, and thereby fuelling the conflict, are guilty of complicity in crimes against humanity, and so is the Ministry of Defence when it provides training for FADRC.

This is not all a new phenomenon, however. The DRC has been subjected to long and brutal colonial interference (see Appendix 4). Joseph Conrad called King Leopold II’s conquest and plunder of the Congo in the late 19th and early 20th century, “the vilest scramble for loot that has ever disfigured the human conscience.”45 In the course of that savage plunder, more than half the population of the Congo was either killed or died as a result of the miserable conditions imposed upon them.46

Some UK case studies

1. Afrimex

Afrimex (UK) Ramnik House, 8-10 Kingswood Road, Wembley HA9 8JR

Afrimex featured in the 2001 and 2002 UN reports as having both imported minerals from the DRC via Rwanda and violated OECD guidelines. In February 2007, Global Witness filed a complaint against Afrimex for “breaches of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises … in relation to its activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo … These breaches relate to Afrimex’s trade in minerals – specifically coltan and cassiterite – in the DRC’s eastern provinces of North and South Kivu.”47 Afrimex now claims that it has stopped trading in minerals from the DRC but this has not been independently verified.

Afrimex is a privately owned mineral trading company, registered in Wembley, United Kingdom (no. 01738800). It operates in Eastern DRC through Société Kotecha, a Congolese registered company based in Bukavu, South Kivu. Ketan Kotecha, one of the directors of Afrimex and of Société Kotecha, claims that Afrimex “acts solely as a commission agent for several companies, one of which is Société Kotecha.”48 In other words, Afrimex funds comptoirs and warlords so that it may gain cheap raw materials through the exploitation carried out directly by the other groups in the conglomerate of which it is a part. Global Witness reported that, “throughout all stages of the conflict, Afrimex and its partners in the DRC have been major traders in resources controlled by rebel groups – the eastern provinces being under partial or complete rebel control throughout most of the conflict. The most dominant of these groups in North and South Kivu since 1998 was the RCD-Goma [a rebel group assisted by the Rwandan government] … Control and exploitation of these trades enabled the RCD-Goma to finance its crippling occupation of North and South Kivu - an occupation characterised by widespread human rights violations against the civilian population.”49

Global Witness reports that, “from 1998 onwards, Afrimex was the greatest trader in terms of volume, exporting 165,000 kg of coltan with a reported value of US$ 2.475 million.”50 “In November 2000, the RCD-Goma imposed a monopoly on the coltan trade in the territories under its control in the form of the Société Minière des Grands Lacs (SOGIML). Under this regime, taxes of US$ 10 per kilogram of coltan were imposed on all traders, with Afrimex and Société Kotecha continuing their trade of coltan. This taxation enabled the RCD-Goma to finance its own military expenditures in its war against the national government.”51 The UN panel of Experts stated that, of all the tax revenue collected by the RCD-Goma, “none…is used to provide public services.”52 So, in effect, all of Afrimex’s trade in the region went to support the military capacity of RCD-Goma and the exploitation by the conglomerate of which both Afrimex and Société Kotecha are a part.

The same complaint by Global Witness reported that, “export statistics from 2004 and early 2005 reveal that Afrimex was the second largest exporter of cassiterite from South Kivu, controlling more than 40% of the cassiterite from the province, while also buying minerals from mines in North Kivu. While Ketan Kotecha claimed that the minerals he traded all came from ‘genuine, legal, licensed sources,’ a representative of his own company admitted to Global Witness that one cannot know the origin of the minerals as they come from various locations, in small quantities.”53

Global Witness reports that, “Afrimex admitted that it profited from coltan and cassiterite mined around Walikale.”54 A Channel 4 report, entitled “Congo’s Tin Soldiers”, documented the awful mining conditions in Walikale, as well as the control of the mines by armed forces.55 Channel 4 reported that, “in the absence of any mine management, government soldiers rule here by gun law.”56 The report quoted a miner, Muhanga Kawaya, as saying,

In the hole you have to crawl and squeeze and suck in your belly, to make it through. The next danger is the huge rocks above; often they bury us and once they move, it's instant death. Then there's the darkness. And there's no air. Once you get down more than 200 feet, the air flow stops altogether. It's up to you to figure out how to breathe. As you crawl through the tiny hole, using your arms and fingers to scratch, there's not enough space to dig properly and you get badly grazed all over. And then, when you do finally come back out with the cassiterite, the soldiers are waiting to grab it at gunpoint. Which means you have nothing to buy food with. So we're always hungry.57

The report also quotes a trader, Maponda Regina, as saying,

The miners work for nothing; the soldiers always steal everything. They even come to shoot people down the mineshafts. Yes, not long ago, they shot someone. They force the miners to give them everything and they threaten to shoot anyone who argues. [...] They're always ready to shoot. We are really penalised. We earn nothing. But we pay a lot.58

All of this exploitation has greatly lowered the price of the labour, earning great profits for Afrimex and other corporations like it. Afrimex has been complicit in instigating and supporting these human rights abuses in Walikale, through providing the incentive for groups such as RCD-Goma to exploit and abuse the population in order to share in the profits they bring to Afrimex, and by funding the warring groups and government soldiers that commit the abuses. When asked about how he felt about this, Ketan Kotecha said, "Yes, salary structures are very low but it's better that miners and porters earn something than nothing. If I didn't do this, someone else would. I am not here as some kind of moral saviour."59

Global Witness concluded from transcripts of oral evidence that Ketan Kotecha gave before the International Development Committee that, “despite these events and the context of armed conflict in which they were operating, the directors of Afrimex confirmed that they did not see fit to stop or modify their activities, in particular their trade in minerals in rebel-controlled territory.”60

Information gathered by Global Witness confirms that “Afrimex continued to trade in minerals from Eastern DRC after the complaint [that Global Witness made] was filed in February 2007 … Congolese government statistics list Afrimex as having imported 382.5 tonnes of cassiterite from Goma and 1,102.5 tonnes of cassiterite and 112.5 tonnes of wolframite from the comptoirs Muyeye [which was listed by the Panel of Experts as having funded armed groups] and Bakulikira in South Kivu in 2007.”61

In 2006, Ketan Kotecha responded to Global Witness’ allegations by saying that, “the mining sector in the Congo is such that permitted artisans are free to source minerals from anywhere in the country provided that they on-sell them to authorised 'comptoirs'. Afrimex has always bought its minerals from such 'comptoirs', on a "delivered at frontier" basis.” He added, “to my knowledge, the 'comptoirs' that Afrimex has bought minerals from are respected members of the local business community.”62 This claim about the comptoirs is absurdly untenable in the light of the well-documented evidence that the comptoirs have acted as intermediaries between the armed groups and foreign corporations. As noted earlier, a representative of a comptoir in the DRC admitted that, “we all end up buying minerals which, in some way, have been produced illegally.” The 'legal' status of the comptoirs does not change the fact that they are buying from and funding armed groups. Kotecha then proceeded to give the standard excuse that, “if we withdraw then we will almost certainly be replaced by Chinese or Israeli companies.”63

In 2008, the UK government’s National Contact Point for the OECD guidelines investigated the case of Afrimex and published its final statement. The NCP described how:

Afrimex initiated the demand for minerals sourced from a conflict zone. Afrimex sourced these minerals from an associated company SOCOMI, and 2 independent comptoirs who paid taxes and mineral licences to RCD-Goma when they occupied the area. These payments contributed to the ongoing conflict.64

The NCP concluded that:

Afrimex failed to meet the following requirements of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises:
II.1 Respect the human rights of those affected by their activities consistent with the host government’s international obligations and commitments.
II.2 Contribute to economic, social and environmental progress with a view of achieving sustainable development.
II.10 Encourage, where practicable, business partners, including suppliers and subcontractors, to apply principles of corporate conduct compatible with the Guidelines.
IV.1.b Contribute to the effective abolition of child labour.
IV.1.c Contribute to the elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour.
IV.4.b Take adequate steps to ensure occupational health and safety in their operations.65

Global Witness reports that, by February 2009, almost 6 months after its final statement, the NCP had not received any information from Afrimex about the implementation of its recommendations.”66 In March 2009, according to Global Witness, Afrimex finally replied to the NCP, with a copy to Global Witness, 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.”67 There have been no independent investigations of Afrimex’s role in the DRC since then, so it is impossible to verify this claim. Hopefully there will be an investigation soon that will reveal whether or not Afrimex still operates in the DRC and fuels the conflict.

Global Witness writes that, “Afrimex has breached the OECD Guidelines and that, by doing so, it contributed to the conflict and to large-scale human rights abuses against populations living in the affected areas of eastern DRC.”68 A similar conclusion has been reached by the National Contact Point and the UN Group of Experts. Afrimex is one of many corporations complicit in instigating, funding and exacerbating the war in the DRC by funding warlords in order to buy cheap resources and make a profit. Even if Afrimex has now stopped trading in minerals from the DRC, it can still be tried for complicity in crimes against humanity for what it had done in the past.

2. Anglo American Plc

20 Carlton House Terrace, London SE1Y 5AN

Anglo American Plc appeared in the UN Group of Experts’ list of corporations violating OECD guidelines in the DRC. De Beers, which is part of the Anglo American group, also made it onto the same list. AngloGold Ashanti, also part of the group, has been accused of exacerbating the conflict in the DRC as well.69 In 2008, Anglo American Plc had an operating profit of $10.1 billion, a profit before tax of $8.571 billion and a profit after tax of $6.12 billion.70 2008.

A War on Want report on Anglo American notes that, “in 2005 De Beers returned to the DRC in an exploration agreement with the country’s main diamond mining company Société Minière de Bakwanga (MIBA), itself implicated in a number of human rights abuses.”71 De Beers admits on its own website that, “The focus in the DRC during 2007-2008 has been to move out of the reconnaissance phase into high interest target areas … The main area of focus in 2008 was the SKD joint venture with Miniere du Bakwanga (MIBA) in the ground surrounding the Mbuji-Mayi diamond mines.”72

De Beers holds 19.56% of the shares in an umbrella group called SIBEKA, which, in turn, owns 20% of the shares in MIBA.73 In other words, De Beers has instrumental control over the actions of MIBA. Amnesty International reports that, “dozens of illegal miners are shot dead in MIBA’s diamond concessions every year,” and, “according to MIBA officials, around 10 to 15 suspected illegal miners are arrested every day at the polygone concession.” Amnesty described the detention centers as “virtually uninhabitable.”74 MIBA is owned and controlled primarily by the Congolese government and the Congolese army (or FARDC) has effective control over it. The Congolese army is both a huge part of the conflict and also involved in the exploitation of minerals, as noted by Global Witness and the UN Group of Experts.75

De Beers claims that it “only sells diamonds from its own mines so guarantees that its diamonds are 100% conflict free.”76 But De Beers has admitted that it is working with MIBA, and owning it in part, which is run by the Congolese government and military, which are integral parts of the conflict.

AngloGold Ashanti’s role in plundering the Congo has been documented extensively by Human Rights Watch.77 “AngloGold Ashanti was established in October 2003 by a merger of two large African gold mining companies: Ashanti Goldfields Ltd. and AngloGold Ltd.”78 When this merger occurred, AngloGold Ashanti acquired the mining rights that Ashanti Goldfields had been given under Concession 40, which had been granted to it by the DRC government in 1998. “In October 2003, AngloGold Ashanti representatives discussed the company's intentions to start gold exploration drilling in Mongbwalu with two Congolese vice-presidents and two ministers.” Mongbwalu was under the control of an armed group called the FNI. Human Rights Watch writes that, “both during military operations and after having taken effective control of the area, FNI combatants committed grave human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.”79

Human Rights Watch reports that,

AngloGold Ashanti representatives began establishing a relationship with the FNI, an armed group with an atrocious record of human rights crimes who continued to carry out serious and widespread abuses even as they entered discussions with AngloGold Ashanti representatives … Following discussions with transitional government officials, AngloGold Ashanti representatives met with self-styled FNI president Njabu while he was in Kinshasa in late 2003 to apparently ask for permission to start gold exploration drilling activities in Mongbwalu.

In an interview with a Human Rights Watch researcher, Njabu said that he was “the one who gave Ashanti permission to come to Mongbwalu.” According to Human Rights Watch, “as AngloGold Ashanti received permission from the FNI to start operations in Mongbwalu, FNI combatants were returning from their murderous campaign of ethnic killings they carried out between July and September 2003 in Drodro, Nizi, Fataki, Bule and Largo, villages in the vicinity of Mongbwalu.”80

Human Rights Watch criticized AngloGold Ashanti saying that, “in setting up a relationship with the FNI resulting in mutual benefits, AngloGold Ashanti may have violated a U.N. arms embargo on eastern DRC.” The Group of Experts at the UN stated that, “AngloGold Ashanti could arguably have violated the arms embargo through their direct payment and assistance to the FNI.”81 These weasel words do not do justice to the full extent that AngloGold Ashanti is using the FNI and its brutal policies, including many crimes against humanity, for exploitation and profit, or the effects of AngloGold Ashanti’s actions in the DRC. It is almost inconceivable that these actions do not violate the UN arms embargo.

In March 2004, an AngloGold Ashanti official, Howard Fall, reported in writing that Njabu told them they were "welcome in the area, and would be allowed to carry out their activities unhindered." He specifically assured them that "they need not to be alarmed by the presence of armed militia."82 Human Rights Watch commented on the deal by saying that, “while AngloGold Ashanti representatives may have been provided with security assurances, the local population were not. Throughout February 2004 and in the months that followed, FNI combatants frequently arrested civilians for failure to pay 'taxes' or participate in forced labor, often beating and torturing their victims.”83 The result is a multitude of cheap labour for AngloGold Ashanti.

Human Rights Watch reports that, “Howard Fall, manager of the AngloGold Ashanti project in Mongbwalu, confirmed the company had contact with the FNI and that the armed group had granted permission for the company to work in Mongbwalu.”84 Steve Lenahan, of AngloGold Ashanti, admitted that, “in January 2005, our colleagues in Mongbwalu were forced to pay to the FNI a sum of $8,000.”85 Human Rights Watch claims that “as a result of the relationship with AngloGold Ashanti, the FNI obtained important benefits for the movement and certain of its leaders.”86 HRW also reports that “when Njabu asked [for] money from AngloGold Ashanti's consultant based in Uganda, Ashley Lassen, he got it.” Lassen told a Human Rights Watch researcher that, '“We [AngloGold Ashanti] don't want to cut Njabu out. He needs to feel included. He just wants money and then he will go away. We have given him a little, a few hundred dollars here and there, but that is all. We know how to deal with people like him.”'87

“In addition to the payments described above, AngloGold Ashanti provided various other forms of support to the FNI armed group in Mongbwalu, including some assistance with logistics and transportation.” The report gives many examples of this and also states that:

Throughout the period of late 2003 and into 2004, as FNI leaders were getting such benefits from AngloGold Ashanti, FNI combatants continued to carry out their policies of witch hunts, arbitrary detentions, torture and forced labor.88

Human Rights Watch reports that the FNI have used their association with AngloGold Ashanti for more than just financial gain; “their association with a powerful, rich multinational corporation offered the possibility for increasing their legitimacy locally and at the national level.”89 One individual in Kinshasa said that, "Njabu now has power due to the gold he controls and [the presence of] AngloGold Ashanti. This is his ace and he will use it to get power in Kinshasa.” Another worker in Mongbwalu summed up the situation by saying, "Ashanti will give dignity to the FNI."90 In short, the FNI would not be able to survive without AngloGold Ashanti, which needs it to carry out its brutal policies for profit, so the brutality will not end unless AngloGold Ashanti leaves the DRC.

In its April 27th 2005 e-mail communication to Human Rights Watch, AngloGold Ashanti stated that “It is not the policy or practice of this company to seek to establish continuous, working relationships with militia groups in conflict zones.” AngloGold Ashanti’s position that it tries to “keep the contact to a minimum” is contradicted by the entire Human Rights Watch report, and also by the fact that Human Rights Watch “has obtained materials and witness testimony reflecting the frequent contact between AngloGold Ashanti and senior FNI leaders including meetings held, written permission granted, and payments made to FNI representatives.”

AngloGold Ashanti wrote, in a letter to Human Rights Watch in December 2004, that “steps have been taken to ensure that human rights will be upheld at all times.” It also noted that AGK would “ensure that dealings with local and other organizations, including the discharge of social responsibilities, are carried out in accordance with criteria which comply with reasonable standards of good governance.” This claim is groundless and is contradicted by the facts on the ground.91

AngloGold Ashanti also continues to trade with the Congolese company OKIMO, despite its discriminatory practices against the Lendu (“according to OKIMO employees, Lendu workers were rarely promoted and those who did reach management positions were compensated at a lower rate than were non-Lendu at equivalent levels”92) and its control by armed groups. In November 2008, “together with Randgold Resources Limited, they have jointly entered into an agreement with OKIMO to purchase two-thirds of OKIMO’s current 30% stake in the Moto gold project for US$113.6 million … Following completion of the transaction, Randgold and AngloGold will together hold a 90% interest in the project.”93

AngloGold Ashanti told Human Rights Watch in 2004 that it “did not seek to interfere in the internal workings” of OKIMO because it wished to maintain a good working relationship with OKIMO and wished to respect its “corporate status.” In other words, AngloGold Ashanti does not want to lose profits by angering the people in their front company and potentially losing contracts.

Human Rights Watch commented that, “given that tensions between Hema and Lendu ethnic groups have contributed to the conflict and widespread human rights abuses in Ituri, it is inappropriate for AngloGold Ashanti to have a hands off approach to such issues, especially in relationship to the joint venture partnership AGK in which AngloGold Ashanti has a majority share.”94

Human Rights Watch highlighted human rights concerns with AngloGold Ashanti, “including widespread ethnic massacres, arbitrary detention, summary execution, the use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment and sexual violence.”

As its representatives stated to Human Rights Watch researchers, AngloGold Ashanti did not raise human rights concerns with the FNI nor did they request an end to their abuses. In its letter of December 7, 2004 AngloGold Ashanti claimed it was not in a position to place any conditions on the FNI as "it had no working or other relationship with the FNI," which is inconsistent with the information presented in this report.95

The relationship between AngloGold Ashanti and the FNI is summed up succinctly by Human Rights Watch: “In return for assurances of security for its operations and staff and access to the mining site, AngloGold Ashanti provided certain financial and material support to the FNI. The FNI also derived political benefit from its relation with AngloGold Ashanti in that it found added strength in resisting efforts by the national government to bring it under control.”96

AngloGold Ashanti claims that it will “strictly monitor all contact with outside organisations, maintaining a register of the nature and content of these contacts, and ensure that they are consistent with [its] values and credible international guidelines for operating in conflict zones.”97 But AngloGold Ashanti has failed to do any of this in the case of the FNI and has, instead, actively supported and funded its abuses and exploitation, as outlined here. On its website, AngloGold Ashanti readily admits that it has been involved in mining for gold in Mongbwalu98, the scene of the accusations by Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch writes that, “through the establishment of a mutually beneficial relationship with an armed group responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, AngloGold Ashanti failed to uphold its obligations to secure respect for human rights.”99 AngloGold Ashanti plays a major role in instigating and exacerbating the conflict. By using and funding the FNI for exploitation, AngloGold Ashanti is instigating all of its crimes against humanity and human rights abuses. Anglo American Plc is responsible not only for this, but also for the actions of De Beers, which involved investing in and trading with a company, MIBA, with a poor human rights record that is controlled by the government, which plays a large part in the conflict. The UN Panel of Experts also believes that Anglo American Plc is guilty of numerous breaches of the OECD guidelines, in ways that contribute to the conflict and human rights abuses in the DRC. Neither De Beers nor AngloGold Ashanti have shown any indication that they will stop trading in minerals from the DRC. De Beers, AngloGold Ashanti and Anglo American can, and should, all be tried for complicity in crimes against humanity. Although, even that in itself is not enough, particularly given the selective nature of ICC justice.100 What is really needed, as discussed in the conclusion, is a complete structural change of the world-economic system and of its main institution, the corporation.

3. Amalgamated Metal Corporation Plc

55 Bishopsgate, City of London, EC2N 3AH

Amalgamated Metal Corporation Plc also appeared in the UN Group of Experts' list of companies that had breached the OECD guidelines. Global Witness reports that one of “the largest buyers of cassiterite from North and South Kivu in 2007 [was] the Thailand Smelting and Refining Corporation (THAISARCO), the world’s fifth-largest tin-producing company [which is] owned by the large British metals company Amalgamated Metal Corporation (AMC) Group.”101 In its 2008 annual report, AMC wrote that, “Thaisarco operates the Group’s tin smelter in Phuket, Thailand,” and claimed that AMC owns 75.25 percent of the shares in THAISARCO.102 Amalgamated Metal Corporation Plc had a profit before tax of £67 million in 2008, a shareholders fund of £208 million and net funds of £72 million.103

The Group of Experts at the UN report that they had “obtained documents showing that all of Panju’s [a comptoir operating in Bukavu,] minerals purchased were sold to the Thailand Smelting and Refining Company.”104 Panju was named in the same report as one of the comptoirs that are “directly complicit in pre-financing negociants, who in turn work closely with FDLR.” The Group also reports that Panju is “aware that certain mines [it buys] from are controlled by FDLR.”105 Global Witness reports that it “obtained DRC government export records that confirm that THAISARCO purchased over 2,000 tonnes of cassiterite, coltan and wolframite from Panju in 2007.”106

The atrocious human rights record of the FDLR is well documented. For example, Global Witness reports that, “the FDLR systematically extort minerals and money from miners, charging a flat fee of 30% on mining proceeds in some areas and ‘taxing’ minerals at roadblocks.” For poor miners, that 30% could mean the difference between starvation and survival. Global Witness further reports that people in FDLR-controlled areas live in “an atmosphere of fear, as the FDLR impose[s] itself through violence and extreme brutality.”107 There have also been “instances of forced labour by the FDLR.” One activist in Kivu said that, “people simply can’t refuse to work for them.” If they did refuse, they face the threat of extreme violence. The FDLR has been involved in “killing and raping civilians.”108 For example, Human Rights Watch reports that the FDLR “brutally slaughtered at least 100 Congolese civilians in the Kivu provinces of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo between January 20 and February 8, 2009.”109 The report goes on to state that,

The FDLR abducted scores of local residents from neighboring villages and took them to their camp … [they] hacked many civilians to death and others died in the crossfire. One witness at Kibua saw FDLR combatants kill at least seven people, including a pregnant woman, whose womb was slit open. Another saw an FDLR combatant batter a 10-year-old girl to death against a brick wall … Following the meeting, the FDLR erected barriers to prevent people from fleeing. When some tried to flee, the FDLR attacked them, killing dozens with guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and machetes … FDLR combatants also raped more than a dozen women … For instance, in southern Masisi territory (North Kivu), on January 27, FDLR combatants raped and killed a woman and then raped her 9-year-old daughter.110

This is just one of the FDLR’s many atrocities and another chapter to add to its especially ugly past as “some leaders of the FDLR are accused of having participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.”111

The Group of Experts at the UN report that, “the principal method used by FDLR to raise funds is through the illegal trade of mineral resources … The Group estimates that FDLR is reaping profits possibly worth millions of dollars a year from the trade of minerals in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, in particular cassiterite, gold, coltan and wolframite.”112 THAISARCO, and thus the Amalgamated Metal Corporation, share a primary responsibility for this as they are funding the FDLR and allowing it to continue to survive as a group,113 in order to profit off the cheap minerals that result from FDLR’s exploitation of the local population. Global Witness says that it is “concerned that THAISARCO’s trading practices are fuelling the conflict in Eastern DRC.”114

Global Witness reports that THAISARCO claimed that it did not operate “directly” in the DRC and that, “most parties and commentators appear to be in agreement that the continued trade in minerals from DRC is fundamental to the well being of the artisanal mining communities.” THAISARCO concluded, “In summary, we believe we are providing a very valuable service to the DRC economy although we recognise that improvements in the visibility of the supply chain are both desirable and necessary.”115

THAISARCO’s claim that it provides “a very valuable service to the DRC economy” and that its trade in the DRC is “fundamental to the well being of the artisanal mining communities” would be risible were it not so horrifying. As noted earlier, the artisanal miners “are the first to suffer exploitation and human rights abuses at the hands of warring parties and derive few, if any, benefits from working in these conditions.”116 If THAISCARCO and other companies were really providing a valuable service to the DRC economy, then all the years of seismic activity by foreign corporations in the DRC (which has been alluded to at many times in this report) would have given the DRC a booming economy. But that is not the case.117 Most indicative is the fact that the DRC has the lowest GDP per person and the highest rate of starvation in the world.

AMC is finally starting to respond to criticism, and, “on 18 September 2009, Thaisarco announced that it has chosen to suspend all purchases of cassiterite from the DRC.” It also stated, however, that “it would continue to fulfil all current contracts.”118 There has been no indication of how long these contracts will last. THAISARCO’s suspension of purchases is definitely a welcome development, although the fulfilling of current contracts is not an entirely ethical way to react if you are funding armed groups in a way that is fuelling what is surely the worst conflict in the world. But for a giant corporation, profit trumps all.

THAISARCO claims on its website that, in the communities that it operates in, it shall “make every reasonable effort to be genuinely responsive to the community's needs [and] develop ways and means of assisting the communities in which we operate such that we are able to contribute our time and our expertise, as well as our financial support.”119 Since THAISARCO has been funding an especially brutal armed group, the FDLR, and has thus been instigating and exacerbating the conflict in the DRC, these claims cannot be taken seriously.

Owning three quarters of the shares, Amalgamated Metal Corporation Plc is ultimately responsible for the actions of THAISARCO. These actions have breached the OECD guidelines, according to the Panel of Experts at the UN and Global Witness, and have provided a huge source of income to one of the most brutal rebel groups in the DRC, as well as instigating the FDLR’s exploitation and human rights abuses, thereby contributing greatly to the continuation of the conflict. THAISARCO and AMC should both be tried for complicity in crimes against humanity for their actions in the DRC.

Conclusion

The actions of British and other corporations in the DRC are explicitly linked to the continuation of the conflict in what has become a war for minerals and has taken the lives of nearly five and a half million people. As Global Witness reports, “it is in the interests of all sides in the conflict, as well as unscrupulous businessmen, to prolong [the conflict], as it delivers financial benefits without accountability.”120

Finding a solution to the problem will be complex. The corporations involved in fuelling war and violence in the DRC, such as the ones discussed in this report, have made huge profits from it and the exploitation that it brings and will not give up easily. The international trade networks involved in the mineral trade from the DRC are so complex that it becomes extremely difficult to track whether minerals have been sourced from the DRC and whether they have funded warring factions and fuelled the conflict. The DRC is so rich in resources that it will be very challenging to give companies incentives to stop exploiting them, and these resources are so beneficial to people in rich countries, such as Britain, that it will be difficult to get a strong movement to seek to rectify the crimes. For example, cassiterite is used to make electronic solders, which alone accounted for over 44% of all refined tin usage in 2007121; gold is extremely valuable and is at the core of most of the developed economies of the world; and coltan is fundamental to almost all of our electronics, from mobile phones, laptops and cameras, to games consoles.

Consumers, thus, also play a significant role in exacerbating the conflict in the DRC. Many of the goods we buy, especially electronics such as computers and mobile phones, are made with minerals that come from mines controlled by warring factions in the DRC. By buying these products, we are, along with the companies whose products we are driven to consume, also complicit in funding the warlords and sustaining the conflict.

The British state is also complicit in exacerbating the conflict, through training FADRC, providing arms export licences to British corporations for the DRC and through providing impunity for corporations that are involved in fuelling the war. Until it stops training FADRC and providing arms export licences, and until it starts prosecuting British corporations complicit in crimes against humanity, the British government will be complicit in those same crimes against humanity.

But it is possible to bring about an end to the war. Global Witness believes that,

A greater international interest in tackling the resource dimension of the conflict and increased sensitivity to criticism on the part of companies and traders may provide a long-waited opportunity for more effective action to break the links between mineral trade and armed conflict in North and South Kivu.122

There are many charities, a few of which have been created recently, that are working on this issue. If nothing else, this shows that there are people in the core capitalist nations who do care about the exploitation of the DRC and are willing to help.

However, the very existence of corporations makes the process of finding peace in the DRC, and elsewhere, extremely difficult. Corporations are inherently anti-social and all too easily cause extreme suffering to make a profit. The main reason for this, in short, is that “the senior managers of corporations are legally obliged, on pain of persecution, to seek to maximize profits for shareholders.”123 Joel Balkan explains that corporate managers “must always put their corporation’s best interests first and not act out of concern for anything else (unless the expression of such concern can somehow be justified as advancing the corporation’s own interests).”124 The details and roots of this are also clearly explained Corporate Watch's Corporate Law & Structures: Exposing the Roots of the Problem report.125 The roots of the problem go even further: to the anti-social pricing structures in capitalism, which, through their externalisation of third-party costs, encourage the exploitation of others as the quickest way to make profit. This is compounded by other anti-social institutional factors inherent in capitalism.126 The long-term aim of anyone concerned with freedom from exploitation and seeking equality and justice for people globally and in the DRC, should be the abolition both of corporations and capitalism.

In the shorter term, there are many things that ordinary people can do to help. The first thing is an organized boycott of all companies found to be funding armed groups, exploiting people in the DRC and fueling the conflict, whether they are doing it directly or indirectly. The main thing that corporations will respond to is a loss of profit, and boycotts and pressure from campaigners can achieve this. This has already worked in some cases. For example, when the Thailand Smelting and Refining Company announced that it would suspend all purchases of cassiterite from the DRC, the reasons it gave for this were “negative campaigning from advocacy groups and adverse coverage.”127

Another thing that people can do is take action to ratchet up pressure on governments to prosecute all corporations that have been illegally profiting from the war in the DRC. A campaign to try all DRC war criminals in the Hague (both local armed groups and foreign corporations) for crimes against humanity could also serve as a potent means of unveiling these business practices so thoroughly drenched in blood.

Some also believe the British government is in a prime position to do something about the situation in the DRC, but it is in the pockets of corporate power. Patrick Alley, the director of Global Witness, says that,

The British government is the largest bilateral aid donor to the DRC and a key diplomatic player. Its failure to hold British companies to account is undermining its own efforts and allowing one of the main drivers of the conflict to continue unchecked. We have asked the government countless times to pay more attention to the role of minerals in fuelling the conflict, and yet it seems that they are more concerned with protecting their companies’ economic interests.128

The Democratic Republic of Congo has suffered more than any country in the world in recent decades; silence, acquiescence and complicity are indefensible, yet they have long been the roles of people, in the west particularly. The corporations that have profited immensely from the suffering of people in the DRC share a primary responsibility for the horrors. As do the people of rich societies, such as Britain; societies that profit from this same suffering with cheap electronic goods, jewelry and other products. Since we share responsibility for the suffering and misery of the Congolese people, we have a large burden of responsibility to do something about it.

More than 5.4 million people have died, millions of people are starving, hundreds of thousands have been raped and a country has been destroyed to feed the insatiable appetite of corporations for profit and bloated consumer culture of the rich countries.

According to Patrick Alley,

As long as the warring parties can fund themselves through international trade, they will continue to be able to inflict widespread violence on the population. Breaking the link between minerals and the violence must be an integral part of the solution – not something that is looked into once peace is achieved.129

In other words, if the demands for cheap natural resources, cheap labour and corrupt collaborators willing to help with the on-the-ground exploitation necessary to achieve this were not there, the competition and conflict among Congolese elites to control the mines and share in the spoils and the exploitation of the people would be different, and it is unlikely that this war in the DRC would continue. But the incessant demand of corporations for profit makes these factors unavoidable.

In short, the war in the DRC is a colonial war. It is fought primarily so that the nations that form the core of the capitalist world-system (the so-called 'first world') can cheaply extract resources from the area that forms the periphery of the world-system (the 'third world') and exploit it for profit. This proxy neo-colonial war is being fought, like most colonial wars since decolonisation, by corrupt and compliant elites that are fighting for a share in the profits of the core nations through the control of the resources. The primary movers and causes of the conflict are the imperial powers that profit from cheap resources. This is arguably one of the main models of neo-colonialism or corporate colonialism: the use of local elites as proxy armies, as opposed to the use of imperial armies, is what distinguishes it from 'traditional' colonialism.130 The suffering of the Congo is merely the latest phase of the vast suffering that the Maafa has brought to the Congo and elsewhere in Africa since as early as the 15th century.

People in the DRC continue working unreasonable hours at dangerous jobs for the measly scraps that fall to them from the table of capitalism; scraps that they may be able to feed their family with if they are lucky. Ordinary people working against the odds of a system stacked heavily against them just to survive are the people being murdered, raped, starved and impoverished all to the profit of the core capitalist nations and the corporations within them, as well as their cronies (such as the warlords or the military). This, and the other disgusting acts that have comprised the Maafa over the last 500 years, continuing to this day, are products of the capitalist world-system, which must be replaced with something more democratic, fair and egalitarian. If it is not replaced, then colonisation, whether by state or corporate power, and exploitation of those subjugated under the heel of expropriation (such as in the war in the DR Congo and the exploitation of the miners) will continue, as will the immense suffering and ecological destruction that results from it.

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Notes and appendices are attached as pdf files on the right.

A slightly different version of this article appeared on ZCommunications, 18th November 2009.

 
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