Government inquiry into firms 'fuelling Congo war' attacked

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Indy Politics

British-based human rights groups have lambasted a Government investigation into British companies accused of indirectly fuelling the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo for failing to produce a prosecution or deliver a single sanction. Cases originally identified by the United Nations against 11 of the 12 British companies, including well- known names such as Barclays, De Beers and Oryx, have either been "resolved" or dropped, prompting criticism from both MPs and international human rights groups. Only one company, Das Air, is still being investigated by the DTI.

The Commons International Development committee has stated that the failure to satisfactorily carry out the investigations undermined Britain's commitment to international corporate responsibility.

They said: "Given the number of UK companies listed by the UN ... the Government response should have been more thorough."

Two pressure groups against corporate sponsorship of war have asked the Government to investigate the evidence amassed.

A range of allegations first made by a panel of experts appointed by the UN in 2002 include financial and trading activities in violation of international guidelines for multinational companies. A subsequent UN report recommended that four of the 12 British companies should be investigated.

Only one of these, Das Air, accused of being in breach of guidelines by transporting the black mineral coltan from the DRC, is still being investigated by the DTI. A spokesman for Das Air said: "We are co-operating with the DTI investigation but the case against us appears to be full of inaccuracies. We deny any wrongdoing."

The other cases have either been "resolved" or ignored, the human rights groups allege. Yet many British companies continue to trade with the DRC in a way that may be still indirectly fuelling a conflict that has claimed four million lives.

MPs, in their report, said they were also unhappy at the way the allegations had been settled: "We are concerned by the manner in which companies ... were put in the resolved category by the UN panel ... they raise concerns about ... how vigorously the UK seeks to ensure that OECD guidelines are adhered to ..."

Patricia Feeney of Raid, the British based human rights group said: "The British Government's failure to draw a line between acceptable and unacceptable corporate behaviour encouraged some companies to continue to exploit the Congo's natural resources in ways that the UN had deemed highly unethical." Carina Tertsakian, lead campaigner for Global Witness said: "The British government has not carried out any serious investigation into the British companies named and there have been no prosecutions the UK or elsewhere ..."

A spokeswoman for the DTI said that all cases were properly investigated where there was evidence against an individual company and that these had either been concluded or the issues had been resolved with the companies. One investigation remained "ongoing".