March 9, 2012

Exclusive: As Kony 2012 Mania Sweeps Nation, Lobbyists and CEOs Demand That Obama Rollback Regulations On “Conflict Minerals”

Exclusive: As Kony 2012 Mania Sweeps Nation, Lobbyists and CEOs Demand That Obama Rollback Regulations On "Conflict Minerals"
A miner in north eastern Congo

“Kony 2012” is sweeping the country, compelling Americans to confront an international criminal known as Joseph Kony, a Ugandan warlord who abducted children into his militia and is believed to be hiding in the jungles of central Africa. We hope this successful campaign will also help shine a light on a new effort by K Street lobbyists to avoid accountability for another human rights scandal — abuses in the brutal mines of eastern Congo.

Earlier this week, a group of powerful CEOs from major American firms like Procter & Gamble and JPMorgan Chase & Co. joined with lobbyists to present President Obama and leaders in Congress with a list of demands. In addition to massive corporate tax cuts, the CEOs are asking for a rollback of recently-enacted regulations concerning “conflict minerals” in Africa. These minerals, including tin and tungsten mined in Congo, continue to fuel human rights abuses and violence.

In a little over three days, the NGO Invisible Children has reached at least 40 million people with its 30-minute video promoting what they are calling “Kony 2012.” The marketing effort encourages Americans to pressure leaders to support U.S. assistance to the Ugandan military to bring Kony to justice.

While the Kony 2012 campaign has some critics, Invisible Children has done a service in provoking a broad conversation about a child soldiers: A Google News search reveals nearly thousands of media pieces about the issue.

What hasn’t been reported, however, is the campaign this week by corporate lobbyists to weaken a recently enacted regulation concerning conflict minerals. As demand soars for minerals used in cell phones and many modern electronics, eastern Congo faces significant human rights abuses as warring factions fight over the mines. A new rule from the Obama administration, mandated through Dodd-Frank, “requires American companies to ensure the raw materials they use to make their products are not tied to the conflict in Congo, by auditing the mineral supply chains,” according to Enough, an anti-genocide nonprofit.

Roll Call reported that in the last two days, the Business Roundtable, a CEO lobbying association, met with Blue Dog Democrats, President Obama, as well as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The CEOs reportedly presented “Taking Action for America,” a list of demands to cut certain regulations and taxes on corporations. Republic Report viewed the document, and under a section devoted to regulations opposed by the group, noticed opposition to the conflict minerals rule:

Exclusive: As Kony 2012 Mania Sweeps Nation, Lobbyists and CEOs Demand That Obama Rollback Regulations On "Conflict Minerals"
The Business Roundtable is one of the most influential lobbying federations you probably haven’t heard of. The group, with around a $24 million dollar advocacy budget, is led by former Governor John Engler. Although groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are perhaps most associated with brazen corporate lobbying, the lobbyists of the Business Roundtable ply their trade by setting up meetings between politicians and groups of Fortune 100 CEOs. Andrew Liveri, CEO of Dow Chemical, was among the large of CEOs reportedly in meetings this week in Washington, D.C.

Apple, 3M Co, Motorola Inc, Intel Corp, Verizon, Lockheed Martin, Best Buy, Rio Tinto, Qualcomm, Hewlett-Packard, and Bose Corp. are among the many corporations that have lobbied on the conflicts mineral rule in the past.

As the public discusses the Kony 2012 campaign, newly energized human rights activists should be aware that the Business Roundtable is using its considerable political weight to water down the conflict minerals rule.