Editor's Note: This post was written by Enough Project intern Tomas Husted.
On Wednesday, June 18, Ford Motor Company released its Sustainability Report 2013/2014. Available online, the report documents Ford’s efforts to enhance its sustainability through a wide range of initiatives, most notably on the issue of responsible sourcing. With the automobile industry slow to lead positive change in combatting the use of conflict minerals, Ford’s report is a refreshing sign that one of America’s most lucrative and influential businesses may be joining the growing movement to build a clean global minerals supply chain. The report also covers progress Ford has made in improving the fuel economy of its automobiles, reducing the company’s environmental impact, and working to eradicate all forms of forced labor throughout its production network.
Unlike in the electronics industry, where tech giants Intel and HP have established themselves as industry leaders in the effort to source 3TG responsibly, the automotive industry has largely lacked a conflict-free champion. Further, there has been little cooperation among automakers to pressure smelters to engage in supply chain due diligence. Lately, however, Ford has taken steps to distinguish itself as a potential catalyst for industry-wide change. In addition to helping to form the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) work group on conflict minerals, Ford actively participates in cross-industry organizations such as the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI), the Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) and the Public Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade (PPA), all which seek to promote conflict-free sourcing in eastern Congo.
Ford’s new sustainability report is a step forward in the company’s emergence as an industry leader in conflict-free manufacturing. In addition to affirming Ford’s commitment to support responsible sourcing in the Great Lakes region of Africa, the report identifies 189 of the smelters used in its supply chain, allowing independent parties to compare Ford’s smelters with the CFSI list of conflict-free smelters and contributing to a broader effort to bring transparency and consistency to the list of active smelters and refiners worldwide. Hopefully, such transparency – a necessary first step in becoming a certifiably conflict-free manufacturer – will set an industry-wide standard and encourages other companies to follow suit.
The report includes an update on Ford’s efforts to ensure that its supply chain is free of conflict minerals. It emphasizes the importance of engagement and relationship-building throughout Ford’s supply chain and with other key members of the industry, noting, “Strong relationships improve our ability to encourage and influence the sustainability goals and management processes of our suppliers. We base supplier relationships on open communication, clear expectations and consistent requirements and processes.”
Ford’s due diligence process is still ongoing, but the company has thus far found no evidence that the 3TG contained in its vehicles have fueled rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As Ford’s Supply Chain Sustainability Manager, Kelly Katynski, explains in an interview included in the report, “All of our vehicles contain 3TG. Tin, for example, can be found in any number of vehicle-related components, from seat cushions to electronics to windshield glass. Thankfully, we have not, to date, identified any products that contain conflict minerals that have contributed to conflict in the Congo; however, more work is required to identify the origin of all of the 3TG in our products.”
The Sustainability Report 2013/2014 indicates that Ford has improved the sustainability of its manufacturing. Most notable, perhaps, has been its success in reducing per vehicle water use by 30% globally over five years, reaching its target two years ahead of schedule. In light of this achievement, Ford’s progress towards conflict-free manufacturing must not be overlooked. The inclusion of smelter information in the report is an important first step for the industry, and Ford’s affirmation of its commitment to continue to source from the Great Lakes region is noteworthy considering the movement by some firms to stop sourcing from the region altogether. Though much more work must be done to bring the conflict-free initiative to the automotive industry, Ford’s Sustainability Report 2013/2014 is a step in the right direction.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Charles Krupa