Conflict minerals used in IT products fund wars and drive human rights abuses

Conflict minerals used in IT products are known to fuel wars and human rights abuses. Unsafe mining methods also lead to severe health problems for workers and environmental degradation in the communities where they live.

Nearly 40 percent of today’s domestic conflicts are related to natural resources in one way or another. Minerals such as tin, tantalum, tungsten, gold and cobalt are used in vital components in IT products and are categorized as conflict minerals since they are connected to armed conflicts and human rights abuses in the regions of the world where they are extracted. Forced labor and child labor are common, as are violence, corruption and widespread environmental degradation.

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 are also polluted as a result. These mostly small-scale, artisanal mines are largely located in remote areas with little infrastructure and where access to healthcare is limited.

Conflict minerals fund warfare

Problems often occur in countries with valuable natural resource deposits, 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 often traded illegally and to maintain their operations, these groups oppose and undermine any efforts to achieve peace. The development of civil society and a democratic, stable government would bring laws and regulations which may prevent 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 artisanal and small scale mining.

Putting an abrupt stop to illegal trading 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 manufacturing and assembly.

  • The European Partnership for Responsible Minerals (EPRM): 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 (RCI): A program launched by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Metals, Minerals & Chemicals. A number of companies 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 a global multi-stakeholder program that supports responsible sourcing programs for at least 3TG and cobalt.

Tell your vendors that you want to see a responsible approach to mineral sourcing. Check if they are transparent about their mineral supply chain on their websites.

How TCO Certified drives progress toward responsible sourcing of minerals

TCO Certified sets criteria for responsible sourcing of minerals in all countries where extraction of conflict minerals is present. Our goal is to support the development of a legitimate mining industry that directly benefits the people whose livelihoods depend on it.

  • 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 3TG and cobalt upstream, all the way to the smelters and refiners.
  • 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.
  • All brand owners must have a public global policy for the responsible sourcing of minerals. The policy must be communicated to the supply chain.
  • In our definition of conflict minerals, we include 3TG (tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold) and also cobalt.

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.

Other sustainability issues connected to IT products
Social and environmental challenges in the IT product supply chain
Hazardous substances in IT products — a human health and environmental risk
A growing, toxic waste stream where valuable finite resources are lost
The circular economy — a way of building a brighter and more resourceful future
Sources of information