We have written extensively of late on the Dodd-Frank legislation Section 1502, better known as the act covering the sourcing of what are known as “Conflict Minerals,” largely from the perspective of the impact on firms directly and indirectly involved in consuming metals at some point in their supply chain.
Check out MetalMiner’s Conflict Minerals Legislative Guide for expert analysis and commentary.
Setting aside the huge cost and bureaucratic burden the act could impose on business, the ethics behind the legislation have much to commend them – directed as they are in depriving any party benefiting from the lawless disaster that has existed for years in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The act extends reporting requirements to metals supplied from all of the DRC’s surrounding states, recognizing that illegal mining and smuggling of minerals is rife in that part of the world and closing the door on DRC-sourced minerals would not solve the problem.
Not that all metals sourced from the DRC are deemed unacceptable — many international mining operations operate world-class operations; the act seeks to separate these desirable legal entities from the illegal activities of the warring factions.
But the success in bringing the legislation into law raises the question: Where next?
Indeed, if it is appropriate for the US to apply such controls on minerals sourced from the DRC, why would it not be appropriate to apply similar controls on minerals deemed to be sourced from other areas of the world where slave labor is employed in all but name, and widespread human rights abuses could be said to be perpetrated as a result of — or in conjunction with — illegal mining activities.
Systems put in place to meet the requirements of the new legislation would work equally well for all sourced metals, and while we are not making the argument that other parts of the world should be swept into the same supply controls, we are raising the suggestion that, in time, they could be.
Take Indonesian tin mining, for example.
A lengthy article in Businessweek spends far too much time roping Apple into the issues of sourcing tin solders responsibly (as if the firm is somehow responsible for all the abuses perpetrated in Indonesia’s illegal mines), but that aside, the article also explores in some detail the horrifically high mortality rates among illegal miners who often have no alternative source of subsistence.
Nor is the illegal element as peripheral as one might think. In spite of laws to the contrary, a very significant proportion of Indonesian tin comes from illegal or unlicensed mines, yet enjoys the widespread support of local government officials and even the complicity of legal mining companies’ corrupt middle- and lower management.
Does this constitute a conflict mineral?
In the DRC, yes, clearly their armed conflict is very much a part of the near-slave-labor conditions used to extract cassiterite, tin-bearing ore and other minerals, but in Indonesia there is no conflict taking place.
Does that make the suffering and loss of life endured by miners any more morally justifiable? Future legislators may not think so.