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Geo 3500 - Conflict Minerals

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Conflict Minerals

GEOG 3500

Paper# 1

January 23, 2018

Appendix

Introduction………………………………………………..…………………3

Problems and Causes………………………………………………………3

  • Illegal control over mines…………………………………………4

Suggestions and Practices…………………………………………………5

  • Alternative Conflict Mineral Locations (Image)………………...6

  • Enough Project…………………………………………………….6
  • Fairphone…………………………………………………………..7

Conclusion……………………………………………………………………7/8

References…………………………………………………………………...9

Introduction

        Conflict minerals are a real problem to our environment and our ethical practices not only as a nation, but as inhabitants of this Earth. According to Source Intelligence, conflict minerals are defined as, “columbite-tantalite (tantalum), cassiterite (tin), gold, wolframite (tungsten), or any other mineral or its derivatives determined by the Secretary of State to be financing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or an adjoining country” (sourceintelligence, 2017). These minerals, which are primarily mined in African countries, have become a very controversial issue in terms of how they are mined and the way we use them in our supply chains. This paper addresses the problems and their causes of conflict minerals, and what suggestions there are to help end these problems.

Problems and Causes

The actual conflict of these minerals is not just the use of the minerals themselves, but it’s where they’re being mined and how the mining is controlled. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the primary location of where these minerals are available. Although it is illegal, these mines are being controlled by Government militias and troops. Edward Wyatt of the New York Times asked a simple opening question in his article; he asked, “An IPhone can do a lot of things. But can it arm Congolese rebels” (Wyatt, 2012)? According to Achilles, who has their own conflict mineral program, “These troops and militias use the significant profits, derived from the mines, to further their own agendas and to perpetuate war through the purchase of weapons” (Achilles, 2017). To answer Edward Wyatt’s question, yes, in an indirect way, an IPhone can arm a Congolese rebel. What’s worst of all, is the inhumane way that they control the mines. The soldiers often rape and murder the workers, not to mention that they also use child labor and very intense labor hours. The civilians of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a majority of them from local mining communities, are brutally forced to mine under the Government militias. “Minerals sourced from these mines are then smuggled out of the DRC through neighboring countries like Uganda and Rwanda, where they are exported to the Far East and smelted with minerals from all over the world” (Achilles, 2017). However, it is extremely hard to trace the origin of the minerals after they have been processed intensely. Since this is the case, conflict minerals end up in almost all of our electronic devices, among other things, because they are basically untraceable.

        The problem of illegal control over mines and the work conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo are just part of the issue. Another problem comes from the fact that we as consumers, producers, and businesses still are using conflict minerals in many of our products. It all comes down to the supply chains of the businesses that use these types of minerals for what they produce. Wyatt wrote, “But manufacturers question the effectiveness – not to mention the practicality and expense – of tracing every scrap of refined metal back to its original hole in the ground” (Wyatt, 2012). The manufacturers are mostly right to question the effectiveness and practicality of tracing all minerals back to their original source. There were movements made towards purifying supply chains a few years ago when Obama introduced some anti-conflict mineral stipulations to the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010. Jonathon Webb of Forbes wrote, “The 2010 law mostly targets white-collar misbehavior on Wall Street, but it also requires transparency in the sourcing of gold, tantalum, tungsten, and tin” (Webb, 2015). In the Dodd-Frank act, section 1502 basically tells companies that they need to clean up their supply chains to help prevent the violence that is used to mine the minerals they want. However, this sort of backfired on the efforts to clean up supply chains. Webb went on to say that, “many miners have fallen out of work due to the increasingly stringent regulations, and smuggling from uncertified mines is now rampant. An open letter by 70 experts and Congolese leaders argued that the slow Dodd-Frank certification process had encouraged more mine-owners to enter into criminality” (Webb, 2015). An increasing number of people have lost work in the Democratic Republic of Congo; where some of that increasing number is turning to a criminal life instead. So what possible suggestions and practices are there to help stop illegal governmental control over mines and provide a clean and safe way to get the minerals that our market desires?

Suggestions and Practices

The problems surrounding conflict minerals are still far from being figured out. We have taken some steps towards finding ways to clean up our supply chain, but the issue as whole is still unresolved. A suggestion of my own would seem to be pretty simple, but no suggestion is simple when it comes down to it. I suggest that instead of just mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we must mine in other places that won’t cause conflict. I know that the DRC has these minerals in abundance, but there are alternative places where we can find the same minerals. You can see from this image what other countries have in terms of the conflict minerals that are found in the DRC:

[pic 1]

(Image by Matt Whitteker, 2012)

        As you can see, there are about 10-15 other countries where we can find one or more mineral needed for our manufacturers. With this said, it’s still not easy to conduct a mutual agreement to mine in these locations. Some of these countries could do something similar to where the government controls the mines and there isn’t much leeway. Thankfully, there are other businesses and groups that are really pushing for there to be completely conflict-free mineral imports and exports. According to the Enough Project, a human rights group, “Companies are buying fewer minerals connected to militia groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo” (Whelan, 2016). The Enough Project gave credit to that same Dodd-Frank reform that was passed in 2010. They have analyzed how many tons of conflict-free minerals have been exported in the past years. For instance, “in 2015, Eastern Congo exported 948 tons of certified conflict-free tantalum, a mineral used in the circuitry of the PlayStation 4 and other video game systems. That was a record, and a 19% increase over 2014, the report said” (Whelan, 2016). Apparently the mining of gold is still funding the militias immensely, however, the Enough Project did find that tungsten and tin from that region are being certified as conflict-free along with tantalum. Many big corporations have started to find ways to clean up there supply chains with these conflict-free minerals. “Companies like Intel Corp. and Apple Inc. have sent delegations to Africa and audited their supply chains to root out producers that use profits to fund armed conflicts” (Whelan, 2016). Another company that really stresses the idea of conflict-free minerals is Fairphone. It was founded by Bas van Abel in Amsterdam early in 2013. Their business statement shows that, “Fairphone’s aims are to build smartphones using only conflict-free raw materials; to provide fair working conditions during assembly; to design a phone that is robust, long-lived and fixable; to establish a comprehensive reducing system; and to be fully transparent about the entire process, including costs and pricing” (Schuetze, 2014). Fairphone is a pioneer in having fully transparent business operations and supply chains. Sean Ansett, the former COO of Fairphone, came into Western Michigan University last semester to talk about how much Fairphone does to make sure they are completely transparent in their supply chain. This included sending out groups to the mines where they would receive the minerals, making sure every customer knew where those minerals came from, and also being honest in the pricing of their phone. If more companies can do what Fairphone has been doing, then we will start to see the issue of conflict minerals greatly decrease.

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