Drowning out local voices? Participation in past and present battery-mineral supply chain regulation initiatives in DRC

Sarah Katz-Lavigne, Hadassah Arian, and Sara Geenen

Recent years have seen the emergence of a “new global foreign accountability norm” (Partzsch & Vlaskamp, 2016). Companies are increasingly held to account for environmental, social and human rights problems in supply chains of minerals like cobalt that are 'critical' for electric-vehicle batteries. Ethical supply-chain initiatives, such as mandatory human rights due diligence (mHRDD) and responsible sourcing initiatives for minerals, are rapidly multiplying. “Accountability by proxy” (Koenig-Archibugi & Macdonald, 2013) is typically exercised by Western citizens and consumers, on behalf of small-scale producers, workers or affected communities. The paper on which this presentation is based systematically reviews the multiplicity of initiatives, programs, and projects created by actors at different levels to help corporations comply with legislation and mitigate negative impacts along their supply chains of “conflict minerals” (tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold) that originate in eastern DRC and of recently booming cobalt and copper (2C) from the provinces of Haut-Katanga and Lualaba in southeastern DRC. We focus in particular on the ‘original power holders’: the small-scale producers, workers and affected communities ‘at the bottom’ of the chain in the context of contestation over who benefits from high mineral demand and prices. We consider how these programmes and projects, which have multiplied to an extent that it has become almost impossible to see the forest for the trees, conceptualize and implement small-scale producer participation. Despite efforts to eliminate ‘middlemen’ (local traders and buyers), preliminary findings suggest that traditional and emerging ‘middlemen’ and accountability by proxy still characterize transnational supply-chain regulation, posing a major obstacle to genuine representation.

Keywords: human rights due diligence, mineral supply chains, small-scale producers, participation, Democratic Republic of Congo