conflict minerals

Conflict Minerals: Unintended Consequences

Stop conflict minerals – but don’t halt economic growth in southern Africa.

By Deborah Albers

Over the past decade the world has been exposed first to conflict diamonds and now conflict minerals. Conflict minerals are mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and neighboring countries where human rights violations are commonplace, environmental damage is rampant and profits from the mining industry help fund the political organizations and groups with interests in the mines.

The DRC conflict, which has been going on since 1998 and involved seven countries, has been called the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II. It is estimated that approximately 5.4 million people have died since the onset of fighting. In addition, the egregious human rights violations that take place daily are cause for deep concern and the complexity of this situation requires collaborative action; this is too problematic for one company, industry or government to solve. Governments, the international community, multi-national corporations across many industries and the nongovernmental (NGO) community will have to work together to address these issues. Governments are rightly concerned with the welfare of their citizens, NGOs document damage done to people and the environment as a result of war, and most corporations want to know with confidence they are sourcing responsibly.   

In July 2010, the U.S. Congress signed the Frank-Dodd Financial Reform Act into law.  A small part of the bill addresses conflict minerals sourced from the DRC and adjoining countries. Under this new law, a company whose products contain conflict minerals must disclose annually to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) whether its conflict minerals originated in the DRC or adjoining countries. If the minerals did originate from the DRC, or if the origin is unknown, the company must file a Conflict Minerals Report and submit it to the SEC.

The U.S. and other governments, the NGO community and citizens of DRC recognize the need for economic development in DRC, but the unintended consequence is that corporations are being given little choice but to source outside the region until a credible in-region sourcing scheme can be implemented.   

Groups including the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) have been working to implement a Conflict-Free Smelter program. The EICC/GeSI joint working group has found that smelters are the pinch point in the process, the point in which all materials must pass to get from mine to final product. If a verification process could be implemented at the smelter, all companies downstream in the supply chain could say with confidence they are conflict-free. A validation process, similar to the Kimberley process for diamonds, would allow companies to source responsibly from the mineral rich region of the DRC and be comfortable they were not inadvertently supporting human rights violations or funding armed conflict.

Developing a Conflict-Free Smelter will take the effort of a global community, funding from multiple sources and time to create a reliable process. We challenge you to get involved. Educate yourself on the conflict, connect with a multi-stakeholder group and become part of the solution to end conflict mining.

About Deborah Albers

Deborah Albers is Dell’s Principal Social Strategist. In this role, she is responsible for defining and integrating a scalable Social Responsibility Program globally.

Deborah’s role includes oversight of Conflict Minerals, Child Labor Avoidance, Human Rights, responsible sourcing and stakeholder engagement. Mrs. Albers is also the chair of Dell’s Sustainability Compliance Council; Director of Special Projects on the EICC Board of Directors; and is responsible for reporting on Dell’s progress and challenges on social issues in the annual Sustainability Report and through Dell’s social media channels. Deborah launched the Green Team at the corporate offices in Round Rock Texas and continues to be the Executive Sponsor.

Prior to joining Dell in 1999, Deborah was the Operations Manager at RSVP, a startup company in Silicon Valley.

Deborah has undergraduate and Doctorate degrees in Naturopathy from Clayton College of Natural Health.

Follow Deborah on Twitter: @DebAtDell

Talkback Readers: What efforts can we as business leaders, consumers and members of the global community do to help stop conflict mining while promoting economic development of the DRC? Share your thoughts on Talkback!

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