For years now, the IT industry has been aware of "conflict minerals" in its supply chains.
Now, BusinessGreen.com is reporting that a coalition of leading IT and electronics companies is preparing to launch a major crackdown on these minerals and metals, sourced from unstable regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
According to the article, the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) is putting the finishing touches on a certification scheme that will help firms identify the mines from which various minerals and metals such as coltan, tin and tantalum have been sourced.
Human rights advocates and NGOs claim that militias in the DRC use the income generated by some mines to fund the country's brutal and long-running civil war.
Initially, the EICC will focus on socially responsible sourcing of tantalum. But in the article, Zoe McMahon, supply chain social and environmental responsibility manager at HP, makes it clear that the coalition is committed to expanding the certification scheme to cover other metals, too. And, eventually, the certification standard will include environmental, as well as humanitarian criteria, as well.
In addition to these EICC initiatives, legislators in Washington have filed the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009. This bill intends to:
(1) monitor and stop commercial activities involving the natural resources of the DRC (the minerals columbite-tantalite , cassiterite, wolframite, and gold) that contribute to illegal armed groups and human rights violations in the eastern region of the DRC; and (2) develop stronger governance and economic institutions that can facilitate and improve transparency in the cross-border trade involving such natural resources in order to reduce exploitation by illegal armed groups and promote local and regional development.
Of course, the IT industry is not the only one facing serious allegations of human rights violations in its supply chains, and companies that chose to simply ignore these issues are putting their operations and their reputations at risk. (See previous posts here and here, e.g.) On the other hand, by working to improve standards throughout their supplier networks and engage policymakers and other key stakeholders, global corporations can help create safe, rights-based conditions for workers and reduce exploitation. Ultimately, initiatives like these are not only the responsible thing to do; they're also mutually beneficial to both workers and the businesses that hire them.