Next week marks a significant milestone in the effort to eliminate the brutal conflict minerals trade in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has funded armed insurgents responsible for mass murder and rape for the past twenty years.
June 2 is the deadline for companies to comply with the Dodd-Frank conflict minerals legislation, and file reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) disclosing whether the tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold they have purchased have fueled conflict in the region.
This transparency requirement may seem like a mundane solution to an overwhelming problem. But it promises to bring to light a great deal of new information on how companies source minerals – and how seriously they take responsible sourcing. The industry has proven the significance of this law by its strenuous efforts to thwart it.
Most recently, the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia turned down the latest attempt from industry interest groups to avoid compliance with the SEC regulation. This means that the June 2 deadline still holds, and some 6,000 companies are expected to release new details about their supply chains.
Industry groups, such as the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, have challenged the SEC ruling ever since it was first issued. Their main argument? Disclosure requirements violate their First Amendment rights to free speech.
Incredibly, the court did side with industry on one of their First Amendment claims — and will not require companies to publicly state on their website that their products have “not been found to be DRC conflict free.”
Though most of the regulation remains intact, the lifting of the public declaration requirement prevents consumers from knowing which purchases they make could perpetuate conflict in the Congo.
Fortunately, some companies support the importance of this regulation and its intentions. Several electronics companies have already filed their disclosure reports with the SEC, including Intel, which has proven to be a leader in the industry. It also recently announced it's going even further, declaring all microprocessors shipped in 2014 to be conflict-free. Apple also published a list of their metals suppliers and have announced plans to build conflict-free supply chains.
Minerals have fuelled armed conflict – in the Congo and around the world – as well as labor conflicts, environmental destruction, and negative impacts on health and livelihoods. Over 100 jewelry companies have taken a stand against the adverse impacts of minerals extraction, and have committed to more responsible sourcing. Will electronics companies step up to this larger ethical imperative as well?