Reaching Consensus on “Conflict Metals”

Set during the Sierra Leone Civil War in 1999, the film “Blood Diamonds” (2006) shows a country torn apart by the struggle between government soldiers and rebel forces. The film portrays many of the atrocities of that war, including the rebels’ amputation of people’s hands to stop them from voting in upcoming elections. The movie’s title “Blood Diamonds” refers to diamonds mined by rebel forces and sold to finance the war.

What does this have to do with electronics? Well, it’s not only diamonds that are used to finance rebel groups. In the past few years, human rights groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have begun to focus on continuing violence and atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Continuing conflict in the Congo is centered largely in mineral-rich regions in the east and is financed largely through illegal mining of tin, gold, and tantalum ores.

Because consumers are familiar with their cell phones, but not with mineral ores, NGOs such as the Enough Project and Make IT Fair have been working to attract media attention and educate consumers about the origin of the metals in their electronics. The idea is to get consumers to reject electronics made with “conflict minerals,” forcing electronics companies to pay much closer attention to the source of the metals in their products.

In the past weeks, House and Senate bills H.R. 4128 and S. 891 have gained momentum. The Conflict Minerals Trade Act (H.R. 4128) bill was unanimously passed out of a well attended hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 28, 2010, while S. 891 gained four additional co-sponsors, bringing the total to 22. Additionally, Senator Brownback, one of the authors of S. 891, has introduced a similar bill as a proposed amendment to financial reform legislation currently moving through the Senate.

Both bills are intended to improve transparency and reduce trade in minerals that provide revenue to rebel groups committing atrocities in the DRC. Targeted minerals are columbite-tantalite (coltan), cassiterite, wolframite (ores for tantalum, tin, and cobalt, respectively) and gold, all of which are used in electronic products.

H.R. 4128 would, among other things, require identification by the importer if minerals used in their products came from smelters that have been certified as only using conflict-free ores. Senate bill 891 would require U.S.-registered companies that manufacture products that use conflict minerals to file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission revealing the country these minerals were attained from. 

The targeted OEMs are not waiting for Congress to take action. Two industry organizations, the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the Global eSustainability Initiative (GeSI), are already working to address the issue on behalf of their members, which include industry leaders Apple, Cisco, Celestica, Dell, Ericson, Foxconn, Flextronics, HP, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Jabil, Motorola, Nokia, Phillips, RIM, Samsung, Sanmina-SCI, Sony, and Sun. With all that firepower behind it, EICC and GeSI are sure to address this issue, regardless of the legislation.

In addition, the International Tin Research Institute (ITRI), representing tin suppliers, has also been hard at work on this issue. ITRI has announced it is moving forward to Phase II of its Tin Supply Chain Initiative (iTSCi), which the organization first announced last year. The goal of the iTSCi is to provide more transparency and accountability concerning the supply of raw materials coming from the conflict zones of the DRC. Phase II involves “developing and implementing a system to ensure mineral traceability from exporter back to the mine site and to develop chain of custody data.”

The effort by ITRI is to trace the origin of minerals and to ensure that those entering the supply chain are not sourced from militia-controlled mines. If they are successful, ITRI hopes to expand the project across the DRC and to initiate Phase III later this year or next: mines will be required to comply with social and environmental performance standards as well.

IPC Actions

IPC is actively involved in representing our members’ interests on a number of fronts. IPC Director of Government Relations Fern Abrams is working with other electronics organizations as well a broad coalition of manufacturers. The current focus of both groups is to find a practicable solution that meets legislators’ goals, without imposing an undue burden on the supply chain. During the past week, IPC and our partners have met with House Ways and Means staff and staff representing the majority party leadership of the House and Senate (Rep. Hoyer and Sen. Reid).

IPC Vice President Tony Hilvers is working directly with the IPC Solder Products Value Council to ensure that ITRI, as well as the broader electronics industry’s efforts, do not adversely impact the electronics industry supply base. Later this month, he will be participating in a workshop organized by ITRI, GeSIC and EICC. The intent of the workshop is to review NGO and governmental engagement strategies, identify challenges to implementing the tantalum smelter validation process to the tin supply chain and to agree on a roadmap for implementation.

3 Comments

  1. Posted May 19, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Hi – I work @ Intel and thought you might be interested in the statement released today here: Intel’s statement on conflict minerals issue
    http://blogs.intel.com/csr/2010/05/intels_statement_on_conflict_m.php

    • Kim Sterling
      Posted May 19, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Rick.

  2. wowlevelingzones
    Posted February 20, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Blood diamonds was a movie that really made me think. Who know what will the future bring.


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