Conflict minerals used in IT products drive wars and human rights abuses
Conflict minerals used in IT products are known to fuel armed conflicts and human rights abuses. Policies set a level playing field, but to drive change they need to be followed up with support and engagement.
Nearly 40 percent of today’s domestic wars are related to natural resources in one way or another. Minerals such as tin, tantalum, tungsten, gold and cobalt are used in various capacitor and electronic components as well as in solder for printed circuit boards. They are also connected with widespread environmental degradation and human rights abuses in the regions of the world where they are extracted. Forced labor and child labor is common, as well as fundamental human rights abuses, violence and corruption. Toxic substances such as mercury are used to excavate the minerals. Workers come in contact with the substances without any protective equipment and soil and water is also polluted as a result. The mines are largely located in remote areas with little infrastructure and where access to healthcare is limited.
Wars are funded by conflict minerals
Problems often occur in countries with valuable natural resource, and where there is a weak or non-existing state. To control the profitable mining industry, violent guerilla groups or armed forces occupy an area, abuse workers and use the proceeds of mineral sales to fund further conflicts The minerals are traded illegally and to maintain their operations, these groups oppose and undermine any efforts to obtain peace. The development of civil society and a democratic, stable government would bring laws and regulations which may hinder this illegal activity.
What adds to the complexity is that a majority of the mines are artisanal and small scale, which are more difficult to control. While industrial mining employs 7-9 million people on a global scale, more than 100 million people in 80 countries are active in artisan and small scale mining.
Many problems are connected to this sector, but it also employs many people. To stop illegal trading abruptly would therefore lead to a humanitarian crisis, which is why international institutions, legislators and NGOs are trying to find ways to improve the situation for communities that rely on mining activities in conflict-affected areas.
Multi-stakeholder initiatives aimed at responsibility and traceability
Several initiatives are working to bring about safer working practices, eliminate child labor and provide better traceability of the extracted material from mine to smelter and finally to production.
- The OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from
Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas. Brand owners require suppliers to disclose their sourcing origins of conflict minerals by using a questionnaire template such as the responsible minerals initiative (RMI), conflict minerals reporting template (CMRT) or similar in order to prevent the potential use of risk minerals.
- RMI: Responsible Minerals Initiative. Members contribute to a number of tools and resources including the conflict minerals reporting template, supporting in-region sourcing schemes and the Conflict Free Smelter Program (identification of smelters and refiners that source conflict-free minerals).
- EPRM: The European Partnership for Responsible Minerals is a multi-stakeholder partnership established with the goal of creating better social and economic conditions for mine workers and local mining communities, by increasing the number of mines that adopt responsible mining practices in conflict and high-risk areas.
- Responsible Cobalt Initiative: Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Metals, Minerals & Chemical launched the Responsible Cobalt Initiative (RCI), a multi-stakeholder initiative where a number of companies in the supply chain are participating in collective action to address social and environmental risks in the cobalt supply chain.
What you can do
Ask your vendors if they are part of an global multi-stakeholder program that support responsible sourcing programs for at least 3TG and cobalt.
Let the brand know that you care about responsible mineral sourcing. Visit the brand’s website to see if it is transparent about its supply chain of minerals.
How TCO Certified drives progress toward responsible sourcing of minerals
TCO Certified drives greater responsibility for responsible sourcing of minerals in all countries where the mining industry and trade is present. This helps suppliers meet due diligence requirements, and develop a legitimate mining industry that directly benefits the people whose livelihoods depend on it.
- In our definition of conflict minerals, we include 3TG (tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold) and also cobalt.
- Brand owners must work with supply chain due diligence by identifying the risk minerals in the product and tracing the supply chain of at least conflict minerals and cobalt upstream.
- All brand owners must have a public global policy for the responsible sourcing of minerals. The policy must be communicated to the supply chain.
- To facilitate due diligence, brand owners must be part of an established, multi-stakeholder in region program that work to support legitimate mining and local communities.
TCO Certified is the world’s most comprehensive sustainability certification for IT products, helping you make responsible product choices that drive the industry in a sustainable direction. Using TCO Certified also supports your organization in taking the next step in social and environmental responsibility.
Sources of information
- Joakim Wohlfeil, Policy Officer, international conflicts, Diakonia. Webinar: Conflicts and violence when smartphones are manufactured, TCO Development 2018.
- Stephen Fuller, Social and Environmental Responsibility Manager, TCO Development.