By Anna Ou, Policy Researcher

As Bill C-486, the Conflict Minerals Act (CMA), comes to a vote today, Canadian consumers may soon have the opportunity to be more knowledgeable of where their products come from and make moral decisions on purchases based on this information. Following the footsteps of its American counterpart in 2010, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the bill looks to ensure that Canadian natural resources companies in the Great Lakes region of Africa are doing their due diligence to not engage in transactions that may benefit armed rebel groups and spur human rights violations.

Similar to Dodd-Frank, Bill C-486 calls for companies to disclose their financial activities, including supply chains, in respect to the extraction, process, and trade of minerals such as gold, tin, tungsten, and others, in the Great Lakes region. However, one noticeable difference between the two is that the Canadian bill refers to the Great Lakes region as a whole, with no particular countries singled out, while Dodd-Frank primarily focuses on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with neighbouring countries as additions. As Canadian mining companies make up the highest concentration of foreign enterprises in the DRC, and the country remains the source of extreme violence and great human rights abuses in Africa, it seems odd that there were no indicators in the bill to mark its significance in the issue. But as the civil war violence in the DRC saturates most, if not all, of its neighbouring countries, it makes sense to include them all under one title to ensure maximum coverage.

What really separates Dodd-Frank and Bill C-486 is that the former seems to take on a more consumer-based approach in combating the issue of conflict minerals, in which government regulations are put in place to bring greater transparency for domestic choices. For Bill C-486, a greater importance is placed on the foreign welfare of the people of the African region, with its preamble clearly stating Canada’s responsibility on the international stage in promoting the trade of conflict-free natural resources. As the bill looks to follow much of OECD’s guidelines on due diligence, which are recognized by 34 member countries, Canada will play a leadership role in tackling this issue once the bill is passed.

Nevertheless, while Dodd-Frank and Bill C-486 both intend to bring greater transparency to consumers by getting companies to show their blueprints in how they obtain minerals, US companies have been experiencing difficulties in interpreting and complying with the Dodd-Frank Act. In a survey conducted by PwC in February 2014, more than 25 percent of the US companies that participated are still in the early stages of compliance and many were not sure if the rules applied to them.1 Should the CMA come into force in Canada, would Canadian companies also encounter similar confusions, or will lawmakers take this into account and produce a clearer interpretation of the Act? For now, we can only anxiously await the upcoming vote in the hopes that our MPs will make the choice to help curb the violence surrounding conflict minerals.

1 “2014 Conflict Minerals Survey,” PwC, last modified April 8 2014, http://www.pwc.com/us/en/audit-assurance-services/publications/assets/pwc-conflict-minerals-compliance-survey-2014.pdf