Congo, Inc.: Corporate Crime and
by Michael Shtender-Auerbach
The Century Foundation, 12/21/2005
Three years after a panel of experts warned
the United Nations Security Council that multi-national corporations
and other external actors and networks were complicit in, and
indeed enablers of, a genocide that has taken the lives of over
3 million Congolese citizens in the past five years, the international
community has still failed to respond.
The UN panel proposed extensive recommendations,
including sanctions and an embargo against military assistance,
withholding funds from nations involved in the illegal trade,
monitoring transit countries, reparations for displaced persons,
and investment in infrastructure. Most tellingly, the panel also
called for criminal investigations of key actors and legal accountability
for corporations involved in illicit trade.
Many of the corporations expressed public
outrage at that report, and their strenuous remonstrations to
key Security Council member states forced the UN to reconvene
the panel to clear their names. A second report was issued a year
later removing many of the multi-nationals, including the only
two American corporations that were listed. However, many still
remain on the list of Western companies linked to the killings-including
corporations based in Canada, Belgium and the United Kingdom.
Those struggling to shut down the murderous
operations in Congo insist that interrupting the flow of valued
commodities from the hands of lawless militias to Western markets
would starve the fighters of the weapons and supplies that fuel
their killing machines. Thus, placing human rights above economics
is not simply a moral choice, but a decisive step toward eliminating
a root cause of the genocide. Such an effort must be targeted
at the links most essential to continuing the conflict, and must
quickly establish a rule of law to protect civilians.
Air transport and banking support must
be withdrawn from illegal actors in Congo. Rwandan and Ugandan
banks are the ones most directly connected to rebel finances,
but transnationals have also participated. No international trade,
legitimate or illegal, can thrive without access to banking networks.
This is already a highly regulated industry with notable internal
recordkeeping abilities; increased accountability may be possible,
beginning with improved World Bank and International Monetary
Developed countries also are responsible
for helping find a solution. Consumers can exert pressure, but
their impact is diluted by the wide array of businesses involved
in the Congo trade and the difficulty of tracking raw materials
to their consumer destinations. Pending congressional legislation
would block some coltan imports (H.R. 2954), but at best it would
alter the product mix, making gold, timber, or coffee the more
lucrative export. In 2003, President Bush signed an executive
order making it illegal to trade in "conflict diamonds."
He endorsed the "Kimberly Process," a South African-led
system of registering and monitoring diamonds to prevent illicit
gems from entering the flow of legitimate trade. However, such
schemes are notoriously ineffective. Even supporters acknowledge
they cannot stem the tide of illegal trade alone. Nevertheless,
it is politically effective to publicly pressure such a high-profile
industry and sets a precedent that war crimes, no matter how profitable,
will not be tolerated.
Corporations perpetuate the violence in
Congo by operating in violation of international law and environmental
standards. The basic question is one of accountability: Should
international trade in natural resources be limited to legitimate
governments? How should legitimacy in Congo be determined, considering
the country has existed without a democratically elected leader
since Patrice Lumumba in 1960? How should we isolate conflict
commercialism so that resource exploitation does not provide an
incentive for continued warfare?
The UN has remained paralyzed by its members'
indifference and conflicting interests since the release of the
UN panel's report, taking no action against the foreign corporate
interests that are accessories to the killing. While the International
Criminal Court has the ability to indict any and all parties responsible
for the genocide in Congo, the chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo,
is concentrating his investigation on rebel leaders and not on
the corporations that finance them. This is short-sighted. Rebel
leaders are expendable; the story of the Congo has remained the
same for over 100 years: pursuit of profit at all costs.
The international human rights community
should exert pressure on nations whose corporate citizens abuse
internationally recognized rights and those governments must in
turn punish the corporate wrongdoers according to their existing
legal structures. This provides immediate pressure, while longer-term
solutions are hammered out. If taking the problem to its source
seems daunting, consider the implementation of controls over the
diffuse effects of illegal trade. Enforcement must focus where
the pressure may be effectively applied, on key infrastructure
and transnational financial linkages. There is no doubt how this
system operates, and what must be done: any further suffering
is an indictment of our very economic system.
Michael Shtender-Auerbach is a press officer
at The Century Foundation.