BSR 2011 Preview: A Solution to the Conflict Minerals Crisis?

Conflict minerals -- which have been a looming new regulatory challenge for companies for the last two years -- are about to reach critical mass.

As soon as January 1, 2012, thousands of companies in industries ranging from mining to medicine to food to electronics will be required to know, down to the mine of origin, if their products or supply chains contain tin, tantalum, tungsten or gold that is sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is embroiled in an ongoing civil war.

The implementation of the new law will likely have a big impact on companies that are still struggling with getting the level of transparency into their supply chains to comply with the law, so a panel at the upcoming BSR conference -- the third panel on the topic in the last three BSR conferences -- aims to help companies take stock of their risk, and learn how to proceed.

The panel, Conflict Minerals: Cleaning the Supply Chain AND Solving the Problem?, will feature presenters from Intel, Ford, and TE Connectivity, alongside BSR's resident experts on conflict minerals, to take stock of what the Dodd-Frank regulations require, and share best practices on conflict minerals and supply chain transparency.

To get a sneak peek at what's on the agenda for the panel, I spoke with Robert Leet, the manager for Intel's Supply Chain Code of Conduct program and the co-chair of an industry group working on conflict minerals -- and one of the panelists for the session.

Matthew Wheeland: Will you give me a quick overview of what the panel's about and what you're going to present on?

robert leetRobert Leet: My presentation will start off with an overview of the issue for those in the audience who may not be that familiar with conflict minerals and what it means, as well as the Dodd-Frank Act and the regulatory actions that are transpiring around conflict minerals.

Then, we'll go into a discussion around how the supply chain of electronics has been working to identify its supply within the smelters that are used for the four metals that go into our supply chain, as well as what we've been trying to do in terms of ensuring that conflict metals aren't in our products.

MW: This is and area that the IT industry has been working on for some time and that a lot of other industries are just now getting up to speed. Tell me a little about what's making this more of a front and center issue right now for industries, both including IT but also beyond.

RL: The electronics industry has been working on us for a while. I think what you're seeing is a transitional point for other industries, where there's a regulatory action occurring that's making them aware of obligations they and their customers may have. So you're beginning to see a lot more focus on this. We run into entities all the time who are fairly unaware of the reporting obligations that have been laid out in the Dodd-Frank Act.

MW: What has your experience been in doing this? What kind of challenges have you had or what have you learned so far, in your work, looking in your supply chain for these specific materials?

RL: Mostly, that it's not easy. You've got four metals -- tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold -- and you have to determine where are those products that are in your own manufacturing, or in your own product that you sell, depending on where you are in the supply chain.