Governor Charlie Baker recently signed a resolution “directing his administration to review procurement policies regarding products that may contain extracted minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Not exactly typical Beacon Hill fare. Here’s what you need to know:
Why the concern about Congo? The nation has long been plagued by fighting among militias hoping to profit from trade in tin, tantalum, tungsten, gold, and other minerals – often called conflict minerals. The money allows militias to buy weapons to continue brutal violence against civilians, often including mass rape and murder.
What does this have to do with Massachusetts? The central African nation has some of the richest mineral deposits in the world. Such minerals wind up in electronics purchased by Americans, including cellphones and computers. Consumers generally have little way to ensure their purchases are not indirectly financing the carnage in the Congo.
The idea of the legislation is to figure out how to help state government avoid buying electronics made with minerals connected to the conflicts.
What does the new law do? The state will be required to examine ways to ensure that electronics and communications companies it does business with don’t directly finance armed conflict or labor or human rights violations.
Specifically, the state is supposed to produce a report considering how to ensure that products containing a range of specific minerals come from identifiable sources and have had the proper tax payments made on them.
Will this change the way state government does business? A previous version of the legislation had more teeth: It would have banned publicly traded companies that fail to comply with the federal Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act from contracting with the state. That law requires companies registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission to disclose whether they use minerals from the Congo and whether those minerals are connected to sites of conflict.
The version ultimately approved by the Legislature and signed by Baker, however, just calls for a study, due out mid-year. Further action would be needed to turn recommendations into action.Felice Belman can be reached at email@example.com.