Do you know where the tantalum in your phone comes from? How about the tin in your computer? Probably not. It’s not like Apple or Dell slaps a list of ingredients and sourcing on the side of their products. But in recent years that’s become a problem, as brutal dictatorships have used mining to fund their regimes, unknowingly making everyday Americans participants in bloody civil conflicts. They’re called “conflict minerals,” and Trump — if a leaked presidential memo becomes a signed executive order — is about to do away with a rule that made them harder to buy.
The specific problem is the Democratic Republic of The Congo, a resource-rich nation with a brutal, bloody history that’s still unfolding. The DRC is currently in the middle of its next ugly chapter, with a civil war that had killed at least 900,000 people, and possibly as many as 5.4 million, by 2009, and where President Joseph Kabila has refused to step down from office, despite his term ending December 20th. Kabila is just the latest in a long line of corrupt and brutal dictators stretching back to when the country was forcibly put under Belgian rule with the goal of taking its natural resources, killing ten million Africans along the way.
Conflict minerals are how all this violence is paid for, and until recently, a lot of that money came from US companies. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms included a provision, Section 1502, that requires companies who buy minerals from the DRC, and adjoining countries, to ensure, basically, their money isn’t headed straight to the pockets of local terrorists.
As the leaked memo shows, Trump may be planning to do this by suspending the relevant Dodd-Frank provision as a matter of national security. Just what this national security matter might be goes unmentioned. But it is worth noting that Intel, which lobbied heavily against the rule and has struggled to keep conflict minerals out of its supply chains despite claims that their processors were “conflict-free,” just gave Trump credit for an Arizona plant his policies had nothing to do with building. They wouldn’t be the only beneficiary of 1502 being suspended, but it’s a curious chain of events.
Reuters has also dug into the matter, and while they weren’t able to “independently” verify the leaked memo’s authenticity, they spoke to “sources familiar with the administration’s thinking,” who confirm that Trump is planning such a directive.