Last updated: May 2013
E-reader manufacturers and their use of conflict minerals
According to the Enough Project which campaigns against conflict minerals in eastern Congo, mineral resources are financing multiple armed groups, many of whom use mass rape as a deliberate strategy to intimidate and control local populations, thereby securing control of mines, trading routes, and other strategic areas.
There are four main conflict minerals being mined in the Congo: tin, tantalum, tungsten (the 3Ts) and gold. The Enough Project says that the majority of these minerals eventually wind up in electronic devices and so it is campaigning to get electronic companies to remove conflict minerals from their supply chain.
Tin is used as a solder in circuit boards; tantalum goes into capacitors (small components used to store electricity); tungsten is used in the vibrating function of mobile phones; gold is also used by the electronics industry – as a coating for wires.
Zero take up
There are currently no certified conflict-free products available on the market. But, since the launch of the campaign in 2010, we have seen dramatic changes, including the passage of conflict minerals legislation in the United States. The Dodd-Frank Act took affect from the beginning of 2013 and requires companies to disclose whether they source conflict minerals from the Congo or neighbouring countries, and to report on steps taken to exclude conflict sources from their supply chains, backed by independent audits.
However, the Act was held up for 16 months by corporate lobbying which culminated in a clause which will allow companies to dodge their duty for another two years by stating they don’t know where the minerals are coming from. Furthermore, three corporate lobby groups – the National Association of Manufacturers, the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable – are now suing the US government to have the new law set aside.
Enough is asking supporters to email companies asking them to immediately issue a strong public statement against the lawsuit. George Monbiot suggested in the Guardian that we also ask the companies to suspend their membership of these groups until the lawsuit is dropped.
Enough does a bi-annual ranking of 18 big electronics companies. Its 2012 ranking showed that some electronics companies are making progress independent of the legislation, including Apple and Sony, which both feature in our e-books and e-readers product guides respectively.
Apple was rated as one of four pioneers of progress who have developed programs including a smelter auditing program and an aid project for lagging smelters, direct sourcing and aid projects to help the Congo develop a clean minerals trade, and tracing projects to dig deeply into their supply chains to identify precise numbers of smelters. Sony was rated as a second tier company which has significantly improved its efforts by surveying its suppliers, piloting due diligence, and joining the smelter audit program.
We would really like to see Amazon in the rankings too. With e-readers almost as popular as tablets, and Amazon’s Kindle the best selling brand, Amazon is escaping the pressure to address its supply chains.
According to Enough: “Despite some progress, there is still a long road ahead. The violent extraction of mineral resources continues to stoke conflict on the ground in eastern Congo. It will take a collective effort by multiple industries to curtail the demand for conflict minerals, and the impetus for such efforts will continue to arise in large part from conscious consumers."
In our guides
In our product guide to e-readers we rated all the companies on whether they have a policy on the use of conflict minerals. None of the companies had a policy apart from Sony and Apple and therefore receive negative marks in the Habitats & Resources (unsustainable mining) and Human Rights categories (oppressive regimes and human rights abuses).
See more information on conflict minerals at www.enoughproject.org where you can download the report ‘Taking Conflict Out of Consumer Gadgets: Company Rankings on Conflict Minerals 2012’ and you can email the 18 electronics companies.