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Conflict Minerals in Cars

Today's cars are like giant computers and that technology always requires a group of metals that have become known as 'conflict minerals'

It is very rare these days to buy a car without some form of electronics having been incorporated into its design. From electronic fuel injection, to computer diagnostics, to four-wheel drive, air bags and global positioning systems, cars are becoming increasingly reliant on electronic components. According to the Department for Trade and Investment in Germany, automotive electronics accounted for 43% of the German electronic component market in 2012. 

This means that car manufacturers are now also one of the biggest consumers of elements commonly known as ‘Conflict Minerals.’

Conflict minerals are defined as being: tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold which have been mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the surrounding areas. The mining of these minerals have been implicated in the financing of no fewer than 27 conflicts within Africa. 

Their use in cars can be found in the tantalum capacitators in engine management systems and driver monitoring systems, while tin is added to the fuel tank, amongst other areas of the car. 

Dodd-Frank Act

There has been a lot of focus on electronics companies with regards to conflict minerals, yet the automotive sector has received very little scrutiny. Out of the 21 companies rated in our guide to cars only six companies are required to report under the US Dodd-Frank Act 2010 – General Motors, Honda North America, Ford, Tesla, Toyota and Tata Motors – and have therefore produced information regarding the auditing of conflict minerals in their supply chains.

While positive effects of the Dodd-Frank Act are starting to be seen on the ground in the DRC there is still wide variation in the standards of reporting by companies. A recent analysis by Amnesty International and Global Witness found that 79 out of 100 companies’ filings in 2014 failed to meet the minimum requirements of the US conflict minerals law. 

Of the six car companies who had submitted reports to the US authorities only Tesla and Ford received Ethical Consumer’s best rating, General Motors, Honda and Toyota received a middle rating while Tata Motors received a worst.

Only BMW, Nissan and Daimler make reference to the issue of conflict minerals in their corporate social responsibility reporting. Nissan goes further than its counterparts in that it had begun to conduct surveys of its suppliers.

These three companies plus Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, MG, Mitsubishi, Peugeot Citroen, Proton, Renault, Suzuki, Volkswagen and Volvo all scored Ethical Consumer’s worst rating for their conflict minerals policy and subsequently lost a whole mark under the Human Rights and Habitats & Resources categories.

SOMO research

The findings by Ethical Consumer reflect similar results in a 2010 report by SOMO – a Dutch research association – where none of the top ten car manufacturers discussed the links between human rights issues and mining minerals.

Tim Steinweg from SOMO, one of the authors of the report, stated “As your research shows there has been little progress in the automotive sector. This can be explained by the fact that most car companies have no legal requirement to do so. In order for the industry to move, we need strong, binding EU legislation, conscious consumers that demand ‘conflict-free’ cars, and automotive companies who are willing to take the lead.”

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