Why the Noise Surrounding Conflict Gold May Only Grow Louder

Last weekend, a possibly momentous event occurred that could affect our industry: A peace deal was brokered in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. 

That area produces the so-called conflict gold that was the subject of Dodd-Frank section 1502. Unlike the Kimberley Process, meant to tackle a worldwide problem—which is why it is still around, even though the conflicts that led to its founding have long since fizzled—1502 was specifically designed to stop minerals, including gold, from fueling conflict in the Congo.

So if peace breaks out in Congo, could that eliminate the need for a rule on conflict gold?

It might, says Sasha Lezhnev of the Enough Project, one of the groups that pushed for 1502. “Theoretically, if there is no conflict, there is no need to report,” he says. But even if the current peace holds—and that’s a big if—he thinks there is a long way to go before the Eastern Congo could be considered peaceful. Days after the accord was signed, The Washington Post said the area “seems on the verge of renewed conflict,” as certain rebels are not party to the agreement. 

And actually, instead of the heat being off, Enough says it now plans to ramp up its conflict gold campaign, after a period of mostly targeting electronic firms. (Tin, tungsten, and tantalum—frequently used in computers and phones—are also said to be fueling the Congo conflict.)

“We have done a lot of work on the high-tech sector,” says Lezhnev. “Because gold continues to fuel conflict out there and rebel groups are moving into the gold trade, we are turning our attention to gold.”

So far, there have been some publicity efforts: Actress Emmanuelle Chriqui wrote an article on conflict gold for the Huffington Post on—of course—Valentine’s Day. Lezhnev says Enough has had some success ranking electronic firms as far as their supply chains, and hints they might do that with jewelry companies. Asked if any jewelers are currently doing a good job, he says Sterling “has presented a sourcing program and started outreach efforts that look like positive initiatives.”

Dodd-Frank Sect. 1502 has been widely blamed for causing a decrease in mining that has severely hurt the DRC economy, so—perhaps to rectify that—both Enough and the State Department (in a note posted this week) are now pushing for businesses to support the legitimate mining there. The focus has now shifted to getting the good stuff in, instead of just keeping the bad stuff out.

“We need to have a solution right at the mine in Congo,” says Lezhnev. “The country is a real good opportunity for jewelers. It is literally a gold mine.”  

Lezhnev is also high on the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade, which is similarly touted in the State Department note. He says that, as yet, no jewelry companies participate, though the World Gold Council and some electronic companies do. It certainly seems like a good opportunity for jewelers and jewelry manufacturers to make their voice heard and work on active solutions to this issue.

Finally, a plug: On Apr. 13 in New York City, I will moderate a panel on conflict gold at the Initiatives in Arts and Culture’s Gold seminar, which will feature representatives from Sterling, the State Department, Jewelers of America, the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, and Ethical Metalsmiths. If you are interested in this topic, hope to see you there… 

JCK News Director