A report touts progress in curbing the spread of "conflict minerals" in electronics supply chain but also highlights continued challenges.
"Conflict minerals" can be found in our phones, tablet PCs, computers and many high-tech devices. They haven't disappeared and won't simply because Congress passed a law limiting their use. Companies described as being "in compliance" may have achieved the status as a result of several reasons, including that they no longer buy parts
anymore from certain suppliers. They probably get certification from current suppliers who promise and "demonstrate" they are not buying raw materials from the "Conflict
region". But how deep into the supply chain can any company really go?
Here's why Intel and Hewlett-Packard received their hugely positive endorsement from the Enough Project:
Intel was the first company to publicly commit to making a fully conflict-free product within a deadline -- a conflict-free microprocessing chip by 2013. It has taken
several other major steps under the leadership of Chief Operating Officer Brian Krzanich. Intel chairs the review committee for the smelter audit program, co-chairs the industry
association work group on conflict minerals, has visited 50 smelters, co-founded a program with HP and GE to pay for smelter audits, and has visited eastern Congo to better
understand how the company can have a positive impact.
HP has been active at multiple levels. When enough smelters are available it will require its suppliers to use only audited, conflict-free smelters. HP also co-founded the
smelters incentive program. HP has been active by helping Congo develop a clean minerals trade, serving on the governance committee of the PPA, purchasing minerals from Congo,
traveling to eastern Congo to see local systems firsthand, and being the most active corporate participant in a diplomacy work group on Congo. It also signed onto the multi-
stakeholder group on strong SEC regulations.
On the surface, this sounds very good. But think about how difficult it has been to get Foxconn Electronics to abide by
Western labor regulations in China and then multiply the problem a thousand times to get a better idea of what is happening in the Congo.
This is how the system works in the Congo and why getting rid of all conflict minerals is impossible, impracticable and delusional. Only certain areas in the Congo are
designated as "conflict" zones. Hence, some companies operating in the same region are not "conflict minerals" producers. These might have been
certified legal producers and freely supply the minerals to certified smelters. These are the suppliers Western companies patronize.
Congo is in the heart of Africa where the impossible happens each day. The minerals produced in known "conflict zones" don't stay in there; they can't be used
there. They need to be turned into cash by the warlords who use the proceeds to finance their wars and atrocities. They have developed and perfected backdoor smuggling channels
to get their "conflict minerals" to the "certified zone" where they can get scrubbed and certified. Try identifying them after they've been melted into power form. It's not
totally impossible, but who's going to pay the extra costs to find out?
When smuggled "conflict minerals" become too difficult or expensive to track, they are simply shipped to China, where they get "certified," eliminating any possibility of tracing them back to the
"conflict zone." That's one way western manufacturers satisfy legal requirements and the warlords get their loot. Meanwhile, the mom and pop miners in the "conflict zone" get screwed because
they don't have smuggling channels to get their "tainted" minerals to certified smelters.
And so it goes....