Last updated: December 2013
According to the US-based 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. “Over 5.4 million dead. Over 2 million displaced. Congo is home to the deadliest conflict since World War II.”
Apple demonstration, photo credit: ENOUGH Project
There are four main conflict minerals being mined in the Congo: tin, tantalum, tungsten (the 3 Ts) and gold. Enough 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.
Tin ore is used in cell phones and laptop computers. Photo credit: ENOUGH Project
Enough does a bi-annual ranking of 24 big electronics companies, including 9 mobile phone companies covered in this guide.
The criteria used by Enough were: tracing of the suppliers of minerals; the auditing of suppliers by a third party to determine mine of origin and chain of custody; and the development and support of a certification system.
Notably, Apple was the first company to publicly identify the number of smelters in its supply chain and require its suppliers to use only audited, conflict-free smelters. It also leads a smelter training program. And Sony and BlackBerry have significantly improved their efforts by surveying their suppliers, piloting due diligence, and joining the smelter audit programme.
Enough’s conflict minerals rankings 2012
Ethical Consumer ratings
We’ve rated all the mobile phone companies on whether they have a policy on the use of conflict minerals and we’ve used Enough’s rankings for the 9 companies that they covered. In addition, four companies not covered by Enough – TCL, Audioline, Doro and Huawei – had no policy at all so we scored them bottom. Fairphone, a company setup principally to make a smartphone with conflict-free minerals, scored best.
Companies who scored worst or middle received negative ratings in the Habitats & Resources (unsustainable mining) and Human Rights columns (oppressive regimes and human rights abuses) on our mobile phones score table for their use of conflict minerals.
Have things improved?
All the companies in the Enough rankings, apart from HTC, improved their score from the 2010 ranking. And, of course, the appearance of the Fairphone has meant that we are closer to the first conflict-free product on the market.
These steps have had an effect on the ongoing conflict in the Congo, as armed groups are currently only able to generate approximately 35 percent of what they made from the trade in tin, tantalum, and tungsten two years ago.
Much of the progress made by companies on conflict minerals since 2010 is due to U.S. legislation (Dodd-Frank Act), as well as the rapid growth of the conflict-free consumer movement.
Companies ranked best and middle have been directly targeted by activists and the leadership of these companies has impacted the entire industry, pushing forward progress on the ground.
The Dodd-Frank Act took effect 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 – sued the US government to have the new law set aside. The grounds of the lawsuit were that, among other things, the disclosure requirement violated a company’s first amendment right because it required the company to say whether the minerals in its products support conflict in the Great Lakes region of Africa. The plaintiffs also sought an exemption for smaller companies who use minimal amounts of tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold in their products.
But on July 23rd 2013, the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC rejected the lawsuit. The Court upheld the legislation, dismissing the challenge by big business lobbyists.
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.”
More information is available from Enough Project.
Download the report ‘Taking Conflict Out of Consumer Gadgets: Company Rankings on Conflict Minerals 2012’
Email the 18 electronics companies