Conflict minerals

Encouraging British companies trading in minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo to be socially, economically and environmentally responsible.

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The UK government is committed to supporting British companies overseas, including through securing a fair and transparent business environment. We are also committed to preventing conflict and building stability overseas and to improving the protection of human rights (including the prevention of sexual violence) and the rule of law.

As the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights make clear, all companies have an important role to play in respecting human rights through responsible operations and respecting all relevant national and international laws and standards.

This webpage provides advice and guidance to British businesses and others who may be trading in minerals sourced from conflict-affected areas of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), or whose products include components that include such minerals. The UK Government encourages British companies trading in natural resources from the DRC to do so in a way which is socially, economically and environmentally responsible, including adhering to the relevant voluntary OECD guidance and guidelines.

Our aim is to ensure that business activities do not contribute to conflict, and that companies understand their role in improving oversight and management of the sector. Many of the tools and initiatives listed below have wider geographical scope and application than the DRC.

What are ‘conflict minerals’?

Conflict minerals are minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses, and which are sold or traded by armed groups. This has for some years been a particular problem in the DRC. The DRC’s mineral wealth is enormous. It is estimated that the country contains between 65-80% of the world’s columbite-tantalite (coltan) reserves, 49% of its cobalt reserves, and 3% of its copper reserves. Gold and diamond deposits remain under explored. Industrial Diamond reserves are estimated at 25% of world reserves.

Alongside international partners we are working to ensure that the DRC’s mineral wealth is brought under legitimate control, as a source of revenue for the state and the local population, thereby restricting financial support to armed groups.

DFID and the FCO are working closely with the Government of the DRC and international partners (including the World Bank, the European Union and the United Nations) to improve governance and management of the DRC minerals sector.

Conflict minerals in the eastern DRC are generally defined ( including in US legislation and the OECD due diligence guidance for responsible mineral supply chains) as cassiterite (tin), coltan (tantalum), wolframite (tungsten) and gold, or derivatives of these minerals. Sometimes these minerals are referred to as the ‘three Ts’ - tin, tantalum and tungsten (and gold).

Mineral Description Major uses
Cassiterite Ore from which tin is extracted Plating and solders for joining pipes and electronic circuits
Columbite-tantalite Ore from which tantalum is extracted Electrical components (including those used in mobile phones, computers, videogame consoles), aircraft and surgical components
Gold Rare metal found in a native (pure) form and obtained as a by-product of other mining operations Jewellery, electronic, communications and aerospace equipment
Wolframite Ore from which tungsten is extracted Metal wires, electrodes and contacts in lighting, electronic, electrical, heating and welding applications

Who mines the conflict minerals?

In DRC various non-state armed groups, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), but also rogue brigades within the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) – the Congolese national army – are reportedly involved in the production and trade of conflict minerals. While several industrial gold mining companies are moving from exploration to production of gold in northern and eastern DRC, and several mining companies are producing gold in the DRC’s adjoining countries, artisanal (small-scale, independent) mining remains an active mode of production in the conflict-affected parts of eastern DRC.

An artisanal miner is a subsistence miner, not officially employed by a mining company, but working independently, mining or panning for gold using their own resources. 80-90% of mineral production in the DRC is being undertaken by between 1 and 2 million artisanal miners in the DRC who, in turn, support a larger community of 4 -12 million people. (Source: World Bank Promines Project Appraisal)

The supply chain

Companies can, knowingly or unknowingly, be affected by the risk of supply chain contamination with conflict minerals. This can occur at a number of stages, whether mining or trading in the eastern provinces of DRC, in an adjoining country, or further along the chain.

Companies, whether at the ‘upstream’ stage of the supply chain (i.e. from mine to smelter) or at the ‘downstream’ stage (i.e. from smelter to end user), are at risk of using conflict minerals. Minerals are traded and processed by upstream stakeholders, before being used in downstream manufacturing products, including in the electronics, automotive, aerospace, defence, software, pharmaceutical and other industries.

The DRC remains a difficult business environment and in the conflict-affected parts in the east of the country, some mines are exclusively accessed by artisanal miners, state services, state security forces and/or armed groups. Production from these sites passes through various intermediaries prior to export and is open to exploitation by armed groups.

Recent legislative and regulatory initiatives seek to keep contaminated minerals out of the industry supply chain by requiring companies to prove that minerals are either not from conflict-affected areas (proof of origin) or that their production and trade have not contributed to conflict financing and human rights abuses (due diligence and certification).

These initiatives follow moves in other industries towards improved due diligence and ‘know-your-customer’ requirements which companies based in Western countries, or selling to Western consumers, increasingly have to comply with.

Initiatives that seek to ensure conflict-free mineral trade from the DRC include: the International Tin Supply Chain Initiative, a certification mechanism by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and Solutions for Hipe-a closed pipe supply chain for tantalum.

UK government action

The UK is working with the international community to find practical and sustainable solutions to the issue of conflict minerals.

DFID are co-funding with the World Bank a major minerals sector reform programme (PROMINES). This will tighten up the regulation of the DRC minerals sector, improve conditions for mine workers, and increase tax revenues from mining.

The UK has also contributed to, supported and promoted the development, adoption and implementation of OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas. This voluntary guidance has been endorsed by the eleven member states of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in the Lusaka Declaration adopted on 15 November 2010. We have also sought to ensure that UN guidance for individuals and entities trading, processing and consuming minerals from eastern DRC is complementary to the OECD Guidance to avoid unhelpful duplication.

The UK Bribery Act holds UK firms accountable for bribery, whether committed directly and on their behalf, in the UK or overseas.

Helping UK companies operate responsibly

The UK Government strongly encourages companies trading in natural resources from the DRC to do so in a way which is socially, economically and environmentally responsible, including adhering to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

The UK Government also strongly encourages companies whose supply chains involve any of the conflict minerals listed above to implement the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas. This Guidance provides management recommendations for global responsible supply chains of minerals to help companies to respect human rights and avoid contributing to conflict through their mineral or metal purchasing decisions and practices. The Guidance is for use by any company potentially sourcing minerals or metals from conflict-affected and high-risk areas.

We also encourage companies to adhere where applicable to:

Companies should also be aware of:

  • UN resolutions that apply to all member states, including the UK. British companies operating in the DRC could be a target of UN sanctions if they meet the criteria as set by the Sanctions Committee
  • the United-States Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the Dodd-Frank Act), section 1502 on Conflict Minerals (formerly known as the Congo Conflict Minerals Act), which applies to all companies that report to the US Security and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Further information

Published 19 June 2013