Unintended Consequences of Sanctions for Human Rights: Conflict Minerals and Infant Mortality

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Are victims of human rights abuses better off with or without economic sanctions targeted at their perpetrators? We study this question in the context of a US human rights policy, the conflict-minerals section of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. By discouraging companies from sourcing tin, tungsten, and tantalum from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the policy has acted as a de facto boycott on mineral purchases that may finance warlords and armed militias. We estimate the policy’s impact on the mortality of children born before 2013 and find that it increased the probability of infant deaths in villages near the policy-targeted mines by at least 143 percent. We find suggestive evidence that the legislation-induced boycott did so by reducing mothers’ consumption of infant health care goods and services.

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