Children have been found mining tin in several areas of the world, including West Africa, Brazil, and Bolivia.

SEC Adopts Reporting Rule to Help with Human Rights Issues Concerning Conflict Minerals

The primary mission of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is to protect investors from unfair or unscrupulous practices. Last week, however, the SEC did something remarkable: It agreed to adopt a rule with the goal of diminishing the human rights consequences of business practices.

The SEC voted by a narrow 3-2 margin to require companies that use so-called “conflict minerals”—metals like gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten which end up in a wide array of products like cell phones, computers and other electronic devices—to file reports about the use of minerals that have been fueling violent conflict and abetting widespread social abuses like the use of child soldiers. The rules were mandated under section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill and targeted towards minerals extracted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and neighboring countries.

Although two commissioners debated whether the SEC’s core mission of protecting investors should be expanded in this way, they agreed that conflict in the DRC and neighboring countries is a pressing problem and that warring groups are using profits from mineral extraction to engage in armed conflict and a wide variety of human rights abuses. Commissioners Troy Paredes and Daniel Gallagher voted against adopting the rule, arguing that there was no clear evidence that the reporting requirement would help solve civil rights abuses and that the SEC had no jurisdiction to tackle human rights problems. Gallagher complained that the SEC’s proposed rule had no exemptions for small businesses and said the reporting requirements might be overly burdensome.

SEC chair Mary Schapiro joined commissioners Luis Aguilar and Elise Walter in voting for adopting the reporting rule. The three commissioners were quick to point out that the SEC was under a congressional mandate to implement the provisions and that the humanitarian crisis in sub-Saharan Africa is severe and required action.

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Nearly 1 million children work full time in Bolivia’s tin mines, in cemeteries, on buses, or in the markets.

BY HELEN COSTER (International Reporting Project & Foreign Policy | NOVEMBER 18, 2010

POTOSÍ, Bolivia—Edwin Choquevilla is the primary breadwinner in his family, earning $7 a day pushing a wheelbarrow inside Bolivia’s Cerro Rico mine. He spends his money on food and clothing for his mother and three siblings, who live in a 600-square-foot cement hut that doubles as a storage shack for wheelbarrows, canisters of gasoline, and clusters of dynamite. But unlike most of the other 15,000 miners who work in the Cerro Rico mine, Choquevilla wants to be a soccer star when he grows up. He is, after all, only 14 years old. “I need to help my family,” Choquevilla says. “Hopefully next year, I can go back to school.”

Choquevilla is one of an estimated 1,000 children who work in Cerro Rico — “the hill of wealth” — Bolivia’s most famous and fertile mine. In the 16th century, silver from Cerro Rico bankrolled the Spanish empire, and at one point, Potosí was one of the wealthiest towns in the world. But production peaked in 1650 and then went into a century-long decline when Mexico entered the market. Over the next 200 years, demand for silver and other minerals ebbed and flowed — and with it, miners’ fortunes. The Bolivian government nationalized the mining industry after the 1952 revolution. The state mining company, Corporacíon Minera Boliviana (Comibol), controlled the mines until the government privatized the industry in the 1980s. Today 36 private cooperatives control Cerro Rico, where miners risk their lives to extract silver, zinc, tin, and lead.… Read the rest