U.S. officials deployed new financial weapons to try to end the bloodshed in Central Africa and the exploitation of natural resources worldwide, raising the ire of corporations that said the rules could cost them billions of dollars.
The Securities and Exchange Commission voted Wednesday to require companies to disclose their use of four key minerals — gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum — mined in and around the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo.
The minerals, known as blood or conflict minerals because their sale helps finance armies in that region, are essential to the manufacturing of mobile phones, medical equipment, automobile electronics and hundreds of other products.
The agency also enacted rules requiring publicly traded companies to disclose payments to governments related to the extraction of oil, natural gas or other important resources.
The regulations have a controversial goal: Leverage U.S. economic power to bolster the nation's foreign policy efforts. Human rights and environmental groups strongly supported the rules, which were championed by some members of Congress and mandated in the 2010 financial reform law.
"We as a nation, as consumers and as industry have a responsibility to ensure that our activity in the global marketplace does not support or perpetuate violence," said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a leading backer of the disclosure rules for conflict minerals.
But a variety of businesses and trade groups complained about collateral damage, and said compliance costs — estimated by the SEC at as much as $5 billion initially and much less in continuing costs — would hinder competition with foreign companies.
"We can't shoot ourselves in the foot if we want our businesses to compete in a global marketplace," said Tom Quaadman, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness.
The group, which is considering a lawsuit to block the rules, helped lead an onslaught of objections that forced the SEC to delay adoption of the rules well past an April 2011 deadline. Companies complained to the agency about the potential effect of the rules, and they requested revisions or pushed for the rules to be scuttled.