Four years ago, electronics companies gave us many excuses for why digging into their supply chains to find conflict minerals was too difficult. “This is too ambitious,” they said. “We have thousands of suppliers, how can we know our smelters?”
Now the ground is shifting. This week, HP and SanDisk published their lists of smelters, following Philips’ publishing of its smelter list in November 2012. Smelters are the companies that turn raw rock ore minerals into refined metals for use in our phones, jewelry, and computers. Smelters are the key chokepoint in the supply chain for conflict minerals because, for the most part, they know precisely where they source their minerals from. There are only a limited number of smelters (some 200-300 globally), compared with tens of thousands of mines and electronics supply companies, so more transparent smelters is critical to solving the conflict minerals problem going forward.
The trade in conflict minerals, specifically gold, tin, tantalum, and tungsten (the “3 T’s”) has been a primary funding source for armed groups in eastern Congo. Legislation, such as Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act, combined with consumer pressure from over 150 university campuses with active Campus Conflict-Free Initiatives, is helping to change the equation through stricter supply chain policies. Implementing Dodd-Frank effectively and going conflict-free will require corporate leadership, particularly from consumer-facing bulk purchaser brands, such as Hewlett-Packard, orHP.
This week, HP published its list of smelters, and SanDisk sent the Enough Project their list to publish here. HP’s list includes 195 smelters, and SanDisk has 261 smelters. Publishing the names of the smelters is important because it puts pressure on them to get audited. Before, the smelters were an opaque part of the supply chain, sourcing corrupt or conflict minerals from various sources and hiding this information. However, the more transparent they are, the more pressure there is for them to change their sourcing policies to a traceable, conflict free system. To date, 35 smelters have passed the audits of the Conflict-Free Smelter program. HP has had its smelter identification process independently reviewed and wants its suppliers, within the next two years, to not purchase from smelters who source minerals from conflict zones such as eastern Congo.
Peer companies should soon follow suit. Innovative programs such as the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition and the Enough Project’s Conflict Minerals Company Rankings should continue to motivate leading IT companies to take an active role in curbing the trade of conflict minerals and the consequent violence in eastern Congo. HP and SanDisk should be commended for leading by example in the movement for transparent, conflict-free supply chains.
Heejin Ahn contributed to this post.
Photo: Tin ore, Njingala, North Kivu. Credit: Sasha Lezhnev/Enough Project