The war on conflict minerals has heated up following a controversial court case and an unexpected announcement at CES. Intel announced that all of its microprocessors released in 2014 will be free of so-called conflict minerals following four years work to implement its supply chain programme at the request of human rights organisations and high-profile activists. The US government and other international groups say the trade of conflict minerals — including Tantalum, Tin, Tungsten, and Gold — has helped finance violent groups where a relentless cycle of war has killed at least 5 million and displaced countless more since the 1990s.
“We felt an obligation to implement changes in our supply chain to ensure that our business and our products were not inadvertently funding human atrocities…” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said.
The current political focus is the eastern provinces of Democratic Republic of the Congo and the nine adjoining countries: Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo Republic, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. At present the target list consists of four materials, but there may be additions in the future should Congress decide to widen the scope of the programme:
- Columbite-Tantalite is the metal ore from which Tantalum is extracted. Tantalum is used primarily for the production of capacitors, ignition systems and anti-lock braking systems, laptop computers, mobile phones, video game consoles, video cameras and digital cameras, turbine blades, drill bits and other cutting tools.
- Cassiterite is the ore needed to produce Tin, essential for solder on the circuit boards of electronic equipment.
- Wolframite is a source of Tungsten. a very dense metal used in electronic devices, including the vibration mechanism of cell phones.
- Gold is used in electronics, and certain semiconductor manufacturing processes.
US Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in a bid to enhance transparency and help consumers and investors make more informed decisions regarding corporate responsibility*. It targeted the trade in and exploitation of minerals in DRC and surrounding countries because it recognized that companies’ use of such minerals fuels demand which funds conflict. As part of the Act, Congress required companies that are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to disclose whether their products rely on conflict minerals (Tin, Tantalum, Tungsten and Gold) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and bordering countries. Congress wanted to promote peace and security in the region, because trade in these minerals are an important source of funding for armed groups operating in the eastern DRC and elsewhere in the region.
This reporting must be submitted/made available annually starting with calendar 2013 and information/audit requirements will be pushed down through entire supply chains, including privately held and foreign-owned companies.
*Section 1502 of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which passed Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 21, 2010.