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Do-Gooders Ruining Lives in Congo—with the Best of Intentions, Of Course

A small provision in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law was supposed to stop valuable “conflict minerals” from fueling war in eastern Congo. Championed by human rights and advocacy groups like Global Witness and the Enough Project, the provision requires companies that use conflict minerals like tin in their products (cell phones, for example) to explain where those metals come from. The idea was that forcing companies to trace and disclose their supply lines would stop them from buying from illegal mines in eastern Congo, which are often brutally run by warlords or corrupt army officers.

That was the idea, anyway. But good intentions don’t always translate into good policy or better human rights in Africa. As the FT reports, the conflict minerals provision in Dodd-Frank is beset by delays, full of loopholes, and almost impossible to effectively implement. Government monitors are understaffed. Smugglers can easily avoid detection. Chinese companies have no qualms about continuing their business. There is nothing to stop neighboring countries from exporting dirty minerals disguised as “ethically-sourced”, or whatever.

What’s happening is the opposite of what NGO do-gooders wanted to happen. Most companies who use these metals and minerals are simply avoiding the Congo altogether. Tens of thousands of poor miners are now out of work. Militias still rape and pillage. Illegal mining is still rampant. Life in the Congo is worse, not better.

With the best of intentions, extremely hard-working but misguided Westerners frequently complicate life for the people they’re trying to help. This obscure provision in the vast Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which is causing devastation in the Congo and wrecking peoples’ lives, is just the latest example.

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