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New Research Paper: From Competition to a Sustain­able Raw Materials Diplomacy

The study by Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) explores the question of which governance approaches European actors can apply to improve sustainability in metal supply chains, and how they can influence other actors and the upstream stages of the supply chains to that end. The term “sustainability” is employed in the sense laid out in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The study by Melanie Müller, Christina Saulich, Svenja Schöneich and Meike Schulze is based on in-depth analyses of two metal supply chains: copper from the Andes and plati­num from Southern Africa. It focuses on – and supplies policy recommendations for – the issue of supply chains in industrial mining.

The empirical material stems from more than 130 dis­cussions and interviews with interlocutors from politics and administration, industry, civil society and academia, conducted in 2021 and 2022 as part of the research project on “Transnational Governance of Sustainable Commodity Supply Chains in the Andean Region and Southern Africa”, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Devel­opment (BMZ). The centre of interest lay in the min­ing nations of Chile, Peru, South Africa and Zim­babwe, the trading centres of Switzerland and the United Kingdom, and the implications for Germany and other EU countries as major importers.

Main findings:

  • German and European businesses are highly dependent on metals. Demand for these raw materials is expected to grow even further as they will be needed for the green energy and electric mobility tran­sition, digitalisation and other emerging technologies.
  • Geopolitical developments influence security of supply. China’s central role in mineral supply chains is a major factor of uncertainty in this con­text.
  • The European Union has set ambitious sustainability targets. Implementing these in complex multi-tier metal supply chains is no easy matter, given the magnitude of environmental and human rights risks.
  • Nevertheless, sustainability should not be sacrificed for security of supply. Instead, the European Union should pursue a strategic raw materials policy that reconciles the demands of both.
  • The two biggest challenges in sustainability governance are: firstly, the diversity of standards and their inconsistent implementation and enforce­ment; and secondly, power asymmetries and lack of transparency along metal supply chains.
  • A sustainable raw materials policy must seek to reduce dependency through strategic diversification and partnerships with countries that share European values. Transparency-enhancing measures and a regu­latory “smart mix” will be decisive elements.

Download the full study here: