New regime aims to block conflict minerals by 2012May 2011
A system has been introduced by the electronics industry to ensure that minerals sourced from conflict zones no longer find their way into devices such as mobile phones.
The voluntary programme, which has been devised by two umbrella groups, the Washington DC-based Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the Brussels-based Global eSustainability Initiative (GeSI), aims to ‘enable companies to source conflict-free minerals’ by 1 January 2012.
It will do so by running an assessment programme that will cover supplier smelters of minerals such as coltan and tantalum. The ‘Conflict-Free Smelter (CFS) assessments will use a third party to evaluate a smelter’s procurement activities and determine if the smelter can demonstrate that all the materials it processes originate from conflict-free sources.
EICC and GeSi said the new programme is needed because there is ‘no credible system in the global electronics industry that allows a company to determine the source of their material’. It said companies that want to source responsibly will be able to use the results of the smelter assessments to inform their purchasing practices.
The CFS programme consists of two reviews that occur at a smelter’s site during the assessment process. The first, a ‘business process review’, will evaluate company policies and or codes of conduct relating to conflict minerals, while the second, a ‘material analysis review’, will involve an audit to verify that all sources of materials procured by the smelting company after 1 January 2009 are conflict-free. This will partly revolve around whether source locations are consistent with known mining locations.
Any smelter that wants to be certified can volunteer to participate in a CFS assessment and if found to be conflict-free can then have its name listed on a ‘compliant smelter list’. The initial focus will be on tantalum processors.
Although the initiative has been set up by the electronics industry, the EICC and GeSI are inviting other companies and industries to work with them to develop ‘a single process for responsible sourcing’ on conflict minerals. They point out that such materials are potentially used in many industries, including the automotive, aerospace and defence sectors.
There are particular concerns about minerals sourced from areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Zimbabwe. The DRC, which has been hit by years of conflict, supplies around five per cent of the world’s tin and is among four central African countries that produce 12 to 14 per cent of the globe’s tantalum.
Some pressure groups have argued that the new assessment regime should be phased in or delayed, for fear that artisanal miners may lose their income streams. But no phase-in is planned.
Members of Gesi include BT, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Verizon, Ericsson, and Vodafone, while EICC membership includes Acer, Apple, IBM, Foxconn and Sony. Some companies, such as Microsoft, are official supporters of both.
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