Industry, government team up for conflict-free mineral markets

Industry, government team up for conflict-free mineral markets

Rumors of the M23 rebel forces expanding their influence into South Kivu appears to be escalating the ongoing battle in Eastern Congo. An estimated half-million people have been displaced -- and 5,000 women raped -- in the region this year alone.

Meanwhile, 9,000 miles away in Washington D.C., the battle over the Dodd-Frank Act Section 1502 conflict mineral disclosure rule is escalating with a recent lawsuit filed against the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by business lobby groups. Section 1502, part of the Dodd-Frank Act that was signed into law in July 2010, was at a standstill during the year-and-a-half the SEC deliberated on the clarifying rule. Now, for the second time, it's at risk of being delayed while the lawsuit plays out.

Although slow going, several government and international institutions have begun creating certification and tracing frameworks designed to give companies assurance their minerals are “conflict-free.”

These groups include:

However, even with mine certification infrastructure, without available markets for Congolese “conflict-free” minerals, income will not flow to the region. That is where industry-led initiatives come in.

Leading companies have begun to support a variety of different efforts aimed at ensuring that “conflict-free” minerals do not become “Congo-free.” They are:

Solutions for Hope

This initiative was launched in 2011 to source conflict-free tantalum from the DRC. It utilizes a closed-pipe supply line and works with a defined set of mines (including artisanal cooperatives), smelters/processors and manufacturers. Current participants include: Motorola Solutions, AVX, HP, Intel, Motorola Mobility, Coopérative Des Artisanaux Miniers du Congo (CDMC), F&X, Flextronics, Foxconn, Global Advanced Mining, Mining Minerals Resources (MMR), Nokia and Research in Motion (RIM). Watch a video by Motorola Solutions about the program.

Conflict-free Tin Initiative (CFTI)

This program was initiated by the Government of the Netherlands in 2012 to establish a controlled conflict-free supply of cassiterite (tin) with the utilization of the iTSCi procedures of traceability and due diligence. Current corporate participants: Royal Philips Electronics, AIM Metals & Alloys, Alpha, Malaysia Smelting Corporation (MSC), Motorola Solutions, RIM, Tata Steel and Traxys.

Making Africa Work

A program started by KEMET Corporation which offers a closed-pipe vertically integrated conflict free tantalum supply chain. Tantalum ore sourced from the DRC and other countries is used in KEMET’s tantalum capacitors. In addition, $1.5 million over a two-year period was pledged by KEMET for social sustainability projects at the mine site and local village in Katanga Province.

Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Mineral Trade (PPA)

A joint project between the U.S. Department of State, USAID, corporations, industry associations, and civil society that serves as a platform for multi-stakeholder coordination and joint funding to establish conflict-free supply chain solutions in the DRC. Current corporate participants: AMD, AT&T, Dell, Ford, GE, HC Starck, HP, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola Solutions, Nokia, Qualcomm, RIM, Sony, Sprint, Telefonica, Toshiba and Verizon.

Photo of workers processing a mound of certified "conflict-free" coltan ore which makes tantalum. Credit: Patricia Jurewicz

These projects are starting to effect change by bringing desperately needed transparency, certification and income to Congolese mining communities, rather than scaring companies away. Although not a requirement of the conflict mineral legislation, the companies involved in these initiatives see it as their responsibility to contribute to these Congolese communities. In addition to establishing “closed pipe” supply chain systems, end-user companies are insisting additional benefits flow to the local towns and villages.

Mike Loch, Director of Supply Chain Sustainability at Motorola Solutions, noted that part of the Solutions for Hope agreement is that the mining entity involved in the project reinvest in the local community. “If we stay engaged in the area with legitimate organizations that are reinvesting back into the local communities, you will have the opportunity to promote proper schools, medical facilities, and infrastructure, all of which are needed to make a much more sustainable economy,” said Loch.

These efforts urgently need more investment and any further delay in implementing the SEC's 1502 rule will continue to devastate the people of the Congo, particularly those in mining communities.

“The clear consequence of a delay and lack of support for Section 1502 was to push hundreds of thousands of artisanal diggers from tin pits to gold mining sites," said Fr. Didier de Failly s.j., manager of the Bureau d’Études Scientifiques et Techniques in Bukavu, South Kivu DRC. According to Fr. Didier de Failly s.j., conditions are much worse at these sites, and they're much harder to control. "Smuggling is more rampant," he added.

Companies who wish to contribute to this effort can follow the example of Motorola Solutions and others working to provide conflict-free minerals that make our gadgets work. This will bring peace and prosperity to the Congolese people.