How can buyers guarantee raw materials used by suppliers are conflict-free? "Conflict materials” is a term that applies to metals such as tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold that are mined in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where money made from mining is often used to help illegal armed groups fight the civil war.
Tantalum is a sought-after raw material in the electronics industry. H.C. Starck makes high-capacity tantalum powders that are used to produce small capacitors for laptops, cameras and medical equipment. Today it has announced it will only use tantalum raw materials from ethical, non-conflict sources.
The global supplier of refractory metals has just received certification from the US-based electronics manufacturing trade association, the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), which means it has an effective system for continuously tracing the origin of its raw materials to guarantee they’re from non-conflict sources.
There’s much buyers can do to ensure they avoid sourcing from conflict regions. For one thing, they can work with their suppliers to ensure they act in line with environmental and social sustainability goals and, as a last resort, terminate contracts if stipulations are not being met.
Last September Nokia announced: “Although Nokia is not involved in the purchase of minerals, we ban the use of conflict metals and demand that our suppliers abstain from the use of metals originating from conflict areas. All of our key suppliers are required to map their supply chains for the metals in their components back down to smelter and then to source.”
Since 2001, Nokia has asked for written assurance from its tantalum suppliers that the raw material does not originate from illegal mines in DRC. It now expects similar assurances from its tungsten and tin solder suppliers.
Sometimes minerals mined in conflict areas are sent through neighbouring countries and out to processing plants, making their initial place of origin hard to determine. The US Conflict Minerals Law requires independent third-party supply chain traceability audits and reporting of audit information to the US Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC).
However, the law does not provide guidance on what will be considered an acceptable audit scope or process, preferring to give companies the flexibility to meet the requirement in a way that suits their business and supply chain.
There must be a global effort to monitor, identify, record and take action to stamp out the risk of conflict minerals slipping into supply chains.