In a world where consumers are becoming increasingly socially conscious, “conflict minerals” are to electronics what blood diamonds are to jewelry. A new report released by Enough Project, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., gave top marks to Intel Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. on its annual list of companies striving to deliver electronic products without using conflict minerals as raw materials in the manufacturing process. The group also singled out video game juggernaut Nintendo Co. as a company that lags significantly behind industry competitors in its efforts to avoid the use of minerals linked to conflict.
“Conflict minerals” is a term that mainly refers to minerals found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which are extracted from mines and used in the production of electronic goods, such as cellphones and MP3 players. The profits resulting from the sale of these minerals is said to support armed conflict in the region.
In 2011, recognizing this link and the potential to reduce conflict, Apple became the first company to mandate its suppliers use only “conflict-free” certified metals. The effort to curb importation of minerals associated with conflict also received a major boost through the passage of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which requires companies to disclose and certify whether minerals used by the firm originated from the DRC.
However, so far conflict in Congo has not subsided and Congolese mineral exporters have shifted the sale of their goods to markets in Asia which do not demand the same level of ethical scrutiny. In addition, Section 1502 has not been implemented because the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission has yet to specify exactly how companies should comply with the law. The SEC is scheduled to vote on these rules this upcoming Wednesday.
Problems notwithstanding, socially conscious consumers should take some solace in the fact that many companies have made a serious commitment to sourcing raw materials in an ethical fashion and increasing supply chain transparency in the hopes of reducing conflict.
Images: Julien Harneis, Wikimedia Commons