Human rights abuses are present in the mining of minerals widely used by technology firms, according to a new report.
The risk of sourcing tainted tungsten, tin, tantalum and gold (3TG) has spread well beyond the traditional home of “conflict minerals” in Central Africa, global analyst Verisk Maplecroft’s Commodity Risk Service found.
It also discovered that many companies overlook the risks of sourcing 3TG minerals outside DR Congo and the African Great Lakes region.
In fact, their supply chains are in danger of being linked to armed groups and serious social and environmental damage.
The report is claiming that 3TG minerals are being produced under the control of armed groups in Myanmar and Colombia to fund violence.
In northeastern Myanmar the United Wa State Army, an ethnic minority army, is involved in tin production whose output has been traced to Chinese factories producing electronic products.
Meanwhile in Colombia armed groups such as the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional) control gold and tungsten mining operations.
“US supply chain legislation on mandatory reporting and traceability has focused on 3TG minerals from the Great Lakes,” said Stefan Sabo-Walsh, director of commodities research at Verisk Maplecroft.
“This can leave tech firms focused on one region despite the myriad risks occurring elsewhere in their supply chains.”
Of all minerals tin is ranked in the research as the worst of the 3TG minerals for labour rights violations. Occupational health and safety violations are widespread across the largest tin-producing countries.
In particular, small-scale miners and surrounding communities are exposed to mine cave-ins and malaria.
Outside DR Congo, child labour poses an “extreme risk” in three of the eight largest tin-producing countries – Bolivia, Myanmar and Indonesia.
Five countries – including China and Peru – are also identified as “high risk” for forced labour, while Brazil and DR Congo pose an “extreme risk” to supply chains.
Tantalum is widely used to produce electronics and is also strongly linked to child labour. Mozambique, Burundi and Rwanda are categorised as “extreme risk” for the issue.
The report said human rights abuses are much less likely to be an issue with responsible international mining companies, due to their application of best-practice international standards.
“The problem for tech companies is they often don’t know if the metals used in their products come from irresponsibly managed operations – whether industrial or artisanal – as they lack visibility of their supply chains at the mine or smelter level,” it added.
“This leaves them exposed to the potential for their products to contain tantalum and other minerals mined by underage workers in extremely hazardous conditions.”
And 3TG minerals are often closely linked to water pollution, particularly in DR Congo, Peru, China, South Africa and Russia which received “extreme” or “high risk” scores for the issue in Verisk Maplecroft’s assessment.
☛ Want to stay up to date with the news? Sign up to our daily bulletin.