* Congo concerned about potential conflicts of interest
* NGO identifying clean mines also runs traceability scheme
* Great Lakes nations to discuss issue at October meeting
By Pratima Desai and Aaron Ross
LONDON/GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sept 27 (Reuters) - D emocratic Republic of Congo plans to look into potential conflicts of interest in a U.S.-funded project to certify mines that produce minerals such as gold and tin responsibly, a Congolese official told Reuters.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is using non-governmental organisation Pact to help the Congolese government identify which sites are free of human rights abuses, such as child labour, and don’t fund conflicts.
Pact also works in Congo for ITSCI, the main private sector scheme monitoring mines for abuses, and the government is worried Pact’s decisions on which sites are fit for purpose could be skewed by its relationship with ITSCI.
“We are going to look at whether there is a conflict of interest. We need to implement controls on the project to ensure that there is no conflict of interest regarding ITSCI and Pact,” said Joseph Ikoli, secretary general of Congo’s Ministry of Mines, adding that the government had not been involved in the selection of Pact.
Electronics firms such as Apple and Microsoft are under pressure to show minerals used in products from laptops to smartphones are sourced responsibly. Companies mostly rely on NGOs, auditing firms and certification schemes to give their supply chains a clean bill of health
U.S. legislation passed in 2010 to stamp out “conflict minerals” requires U.S. firms to disclose if their products contain tantalum, tin, tungsten (3T) or gold from Congo - and perform due diligence. A similar EU rule will come into effect in 2021.
Mining sources in Congo said the concern was that Pact could select mines certified by ITSCI to get government export licences while rejecting sites monitored by rival certification schemes, such as the Better Mining programme run by RCS Global, which was previously known as the Better Sourcing programme.
In an emailed statement, Pact said: “We have a good working relationship with mining officials and others, and have never been presented with any conflict of interest concerns.”
ITSCI, which is run by the International Tin Association (ITA), referred Reuters to Pact and USAID for comment.
USAID granted Pact $3.7 million in December to develop a more rigorous and transparent approach to tracing minerals from Congo and enable new conflict free mines to be verified quickly.
“Pact is one of roughly a dozen entities, including provincial and local government, civil society, industry and local communities who will participate in the selection and monitoring of sites,” a USAID official said.
Congo’s concerns about the project are shared by neighbours. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), which is made up of 12 African countries including Congo, is worried that Pact would be both inspecting mines as well as implementing traceability schemes.
ICGLR ambassador Ambeyi Ligabo said the issue would be discussed at a meeting in early October.
ITSCI’s activities in Congo are overseen by Pact official Mickael Daudin. He said the project would mostly focus on mines producing gold, which is not monitored by ITSCI.
According to USAID’s website, its Sustainable Mine Site Validation Project will validate sites that mine 3T minerals, as well as gold.
Daudin said final decisions on which mines can export minerals will be taken by Congo’s ministry of mines, which will also select the sites to be inspected and audited.
Congo’s mining ministry official Ikoli said the government had yet to review the details of the project. (Reporting by Pratima Desai in London and Aaron Ross in Goma; editing by Veronica Brown and David Clarke)