Just in time for a new smartphone launch, members of Congress are making it harder for you to know what's in your phone. On Thursday, House republicans snuck a single-line amendment into a must-pass bill that defunds a law requiring companies to disclose where they source so-called conflict minerals.
As part of the $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill that passed 211-198, Representative Bill Huizenga (R-MI) tacked on the amendment that cuts off funding to "implement, administer, or enforce" a specific rule in the Securities Exchange Act. This rule, part of the Dodd-Frank Act, requires US companies to disclose the sources of "3TG" minerals, which include gold, tin, tantalum, and tungsten. These minerals are regularly sold by armed groups that use the profits to fund their violent criminal activities.
The rule is designed to track whether the minerals came from conflict areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but has the effect of requiring companies to disclose wherever they sourced their minerals. For instance, Dodd-Frank reporting rules allowed former Motherboarder Brian Merchant to trace tin used in Apple products to a Bolivian mine known to use child labor.
In other words, this amendment—which was approved 211-195—effectively pauses this requirement for the next year, and companies wouldn't have to tell anyone where they're buying their tin.
The omnibus spending bill must eventually pass Congress in order to fund the government. Sneaking amendments and full-fledged legislation into the spending bill has a long tradition; for example, the GOP-controlled legislature passed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act by sneaking it into the spending bill in late 2015 after the standalone bill failed multiple times.
This amendment could also put wildlife at risk: many of the mines that extract these minerals are deep in the jungle and workers are forced to eat bushmeat to survive, which often means eating critically endangered species such as the Grauer's gorilla.
"Conflict mineral transparency requirements help shine a light on the process that produces the minerals for U.S. consumers," said John Calvelli, the executive vice president of public affairs for the Wildlife Conservation Society, in a press release. "Maintaining U.S. transparency requirements are an important part of this and supports efforts to improve conditions at mining sites for the communities and wildlife that live near them."
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