New Law Puts 'Conflict Minerals' for Gadgets in the Spotlight
A new United States law aims to curb electronics companies' use of "conflict minerals" sourced from rebel-controlled mines in war-torn Congo.
The provision appears in the new U.S. financial regulation legislation, signed into law by President Obama last week. It mandates that companies report annually on any conflict minerals in their supply chains from the Congo or nine surrounding African countries, where the metals could be smuggled to muddy their origins, according to the Associated Press.
The four elements under scrutiny – tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold – see use in gadgets ranging from smartphones to cameras . Tantalum, for instance, ends up in capacitors, a ubiquitous electronics component, and tin is handy for soldering components together.
Companies that prove their wares do not contain such minerals from mines financing rebel militias can label their products as "conflict free." Advocacy groups are campaigning to imbue this label with something of the clout for electronics that certifications such as "dolphin safe" has for tuna.
To make the point, activist group RAISE Hope for Congo put together a play on Apple 's popular Mac versus PC ads in which the two human stand-ins for each computer line find out they do have something in common after all: the use of conflict minerals. The YouTube video appears below.
Tracing the path of metals back to the exact hole in the ground they came from could add a bit to companies' production costs. For example, chipmaker Intel told the AP that having its suppliers certify tantalum as originating in non-conflict mines for the last two years has tacked on about a penny per part.
The underlying merits of the law itself are in debate, with some activists and businesspeople disputing government claims that transparency will help improve the humanitarian situation. Fighting in the Congo has killed roughly five million people since 1994.
Tech companies might just avoid buying certain minerals altogether from the ten countries in question, damaging their already weak economies and fueling strife.
Securing raw material resources, especially so-called rare earth elements , is an ongoing problem for many electronics manufacturers that only looks to get worse as demand for 21st century technologies booms.