Tech firms urged to expand gaze to account for 'myriad' of conflict mineral risks

Tech companies may be exposed to human rights violations in supply chains by failing to examine the "myriad of risks" that can be found outside of the traditional homes of conflict minerals, a new report has found.

Child labour was found to pose an “extreme risk” in mines in Bolivia (pictured), Myanmar and Indonesia

Child labour was found to pose an “extreme risk” in mines in Bolivia (pictured), Myanmar and Indonesia

Analysis from global risk advisory firm Verisk Maplecroft has found that efforts to improve the ethical sourcing of conflict minerals such as tin, tantalum and gold (3TG) from large exporting areas like DR Congo and the African Great Lakes region may inadvertently create supply chain links to child and forced labour across the globe.

“Businesses have rightly focused on eliminating their use of 3TG minerals linked to conflict in DR Congo,” Verisk Maplecroft’s director of commodities research Stefan Sabo-Walsh said. “However, organisations need to be aware of the bigger picture when sourcing minerals from different countries – otherwise they risk a consumer backlash or regulatory penalties from the raft of emerging supply chain legislation.” 

Sabo-Walsh noted that focusing on a specific hotspot for conflict minerals, US legislation requires mandatory reporting on 3TG minerals sourced from the Great Lakes, could lead to tech firms ignoring the “myriad of risks occurring elsewhere in the supply chains”.

3TG form some of the components widely used in cellphones. They are used in all kinds of items from medical implants to consumer products such as electronics and even food containers. In areas such as DR Congo, which accounts for around 20% of the worlds tantalum, the minerals are often linked to armed forces who use the revenue to finance their operations. 

In total, the analysis found 20 key human rights and environmental issues related to the extraction of conflict minerals across the globe. Tin was shown as the greatest risk for labour rights violations, and child labour was found to pose an “extreme risk” in Bolivia, Myanmar and Indonesia – three of the eight-largest tin producing countries. China, Peru and Brazil were all linked to forced labour and slavery.

Verisk Maplecroft’s analysis highlights that 3TG-producing sites in Myanmar and Colombia are under the control of armed forces, meaning that any sourcing deals for the minerals are funding violence in those areas.

The analysis noted that child labour and other human rights abuses were unlikely to appear in “responsible international mining” companies, due to the use of best practice standards. However, tech firms often don’t know where metals arrive from because of a lack of visibility in supply chains at mine and smelter levels.

Conflict minerals have also been linked to water pollution. DR Congo, Peru, China, South Africa and Russia were all found to have “extreme” or “high” risk scores in the analysis for gold sourcing in relation to water pollution. In total, seven of the eight largest tin-producing countries were categorised as high-risk.

Minesweepers 

Verisk Maplecroft analysis has previously found that supply chain traceability and human rights abuses were among the most significant issues effecting sustainability and CSR professionals.

An Al Jazeera report reviewed 147 companies that submitted conflict mineral reports in 2014 (the first year that certain companies were required to do so). Worryingly, it found that more than two thirds of companies could not identify the source of the minerals in their products.

American technology giant Intel achieved a “conflict-free” supply chain in 2016 for both products and packages shipped by the firm. Fellow tech giant Apple is also in the process of creating a conflict-free supply chain - the company released a report last year tracking the progress it is making.

Elsewhere, the University of Edinburgh became the first higher education institution in the UK to ban the purchasing of supplies that contain controversial 'conflict minerals' last year.

Matt Mace


Tags

mining | supply chain | traceability | ethics

Topics

CSR & ethics
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