Pressure on Congo may squeeze electronics suppliers

In the years since legislators banned lead and other materials, the electronics industry has spent plenty of time and money to comply with regulations. Now that they’ve figured out how to manage those changes, more regulatory issues are looming.
The U.S. Senate is considering whether to require companies that use columbite-tantalite, cassiterite, and wolframite from the Democratic Republic of Congo to send information to the SEC. The European Parliament has also been approached by a group of human rights organizations, and magazines like Time have highlighted the issue.
Together, their efforts loosely follow the approach used to stem the flow of so-called blood diamonds from this war-ravaged part of Africa. If lawmakers follow their usual path, companies that use these metals to make solder may have to figure out how to ensure that they didn’t buy raw materials that were mined in the Congo. Avoiding them won’t be hard, since the country supplies only a small percentage of those materials.
But proving it may be more difficult. Even if mining companies figure out an easy way to isolate materials before they process them, companies throughout the electronic industry supply chain will probably be required to produce a fair amount of documentation. In short, those who want to use an embargo to pressure the Congo’s government will let our industry bear the cost of supplying that pressure.
Tony Hilvers, IPC’s vice president of industry programs, recently came up with a pretty succinct analysis. “A lot of people agree with what they’re trying to do, but they may come up with onerous tracking techniques that make the electronics industry pay for what should be a government solution.”
Industry groups are trying to make sure any regulations don’t create major headaches for suppliers. IPC and the Electronic Industries Citizenship Coalition, which includes Flextronics, Jabil, Foxconn, Dell, and Intel, are doing some lobbying and trying to establish workable tracking techniques.

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