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Business

EU lawmakers vote to ban 'blood minerals'

The European Parliament has rejected a voluntary business scheme aimed at stopping the use of minerals that finance armed conflicts, voting instead in support of a mandatory ban on 'blood metals.'

The European Parliament on Wednesday voted 402 in favor versus 118 against a proposal to require companies that buy gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten to certify their imports do not finance warlords in Africa and elsewhere. Some 171 EU lawmakers abstained from the vote.

The surprise result marked a defeat for the pro-business European People's Party (EPP) - the parliament's biggest grouping - and upset a plan by the European Commission, which had endorsed a voluntary scheme by European businesses.

In parliament, the Greens, center-left, and protest-party lawmakers from the far-left and far-right joined together to achieve critical mass in the vote to challenge the more business-friendly proposal from the Commission, which wanted only smelters and refiners to certify their imports.

After the vote in the Strasbourg parliament, some lawmakers broke out in applause, while the naysayers stood in huddles in apparent surprise at the result.

"Parliament votes for mandatory transparency against conflict minerals. Big success!" Germany's Greens Party lawmaker Ska Keller tweeted.

Amnesty International also welcomed the move, praising the parliamentarians for resisting lobbyists from big business.

National concerns

Critics warned, however, that Wednesday's vote in Strasbourg could end up paralyzing legislation on blood minerals altogether. European Union governments say firms across the 28-nation bloc cannot realistically track materials from small mines all the way through commodity exchanges to component manufacturers and the final product. EU leaders are therefore likely to block the ban using their veto powers under EU rules.

Ahead of the vote, international rights groups lobbied EU lawmakers to toughen up the Commission plan, in a campaign backed by filmmaker Edward Zwick, whose hit film "Blood Diamond" chronicled how gemstones financed a war in Sierra Leone.

"There is a direct link between the minerals used in our mobile telephones and extreme sexual violence in the Eastern Congo," far-left EU lawmaker Malin Bjork said during a debate on the bill on Tuesday.

Campaigners and some EU lawmakers said Europe should mirror US legislation that requires companies such as Apple to run checks aimed at ensuring their suppliers use only "conflict-free" minerals.

Washington defines the conflict mineral zone as the Democratic Republic of Congo and nine neighboring countries, including Angola and South Sudan. They make up 17 percent of the global production of tantalum, 4 percent of tin, 3 percent of tungsten and 2 percent of gold.

But according to a report jointly released in April by human rights groups Amnesty International and Global Witness, US firms continue to do "business-as-usual" rather than "genuinely addressing" the problem of blood minerals. The report said that 79 percent of the 100 companies analyzed "fail to meet the minimum requirements of the US conflict minerals law."

uhe/nz (Reuters, AFP)

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