East Africa: Despite Legal Attacks, Conflict Minerals Ban Gets Stronger

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"The SEC received some 13,000 letters urging it to promptly adopt this rule, and we think the commission did an exhaustive job of looking at the issues - taking into account the concerns that were raised by these groups, and trying to make the rule cheaper and easier to comply with."

The appeal follows a detailed and strongly worded legal decision in July that upheld Section 1502, which was mandated by Congress in 2010 but only finalised last year. As the regulation currently stands, by June large companies will need to certify the sourcing of a handful of minerals sourced from central Africa, while smaller companies will have a longer timetable.

In the appeal, a central issue in the court's decision-making will be the estimates the SEC used to figure out the financial burden that Section 1502 would place on companies, upwards of four billion dollars in initial compliance costs followed by annual costs of 200-600 million dollars. Yet Murray suggests that companies will be able to bring these costs down as they learn how to comply with the new regulations.

"In general we think that it's important that companies learn about the source of the materials they're using - most consumers say they should know whether the materials they're purchasing are responsible for rape, torture and murder in the DRC," Murray says. "At the same time, this rule isn't just about human rights, but also serves an important role in informing investors and consumers."

On Tuesday, however, two of the three judges hearing the case appeared sceptical of several aspects of Section 1502. They raised concerns about the precedent that the regulation would set, the SEC's capacity to create such a rule, and even the scope of the underlying law.

Conflict-free microprocessors

In 2009, the U.N. Security Council formally recognised that revenues from minerals extraction were strengthening multiple armed groups operating in eastern DRC. The electronics industry has been one of the most significant users of the minerals that have been singled out for scrutiny, which include tin, gold, tungsten and others.

Supporters of Section 1502 say that many businesses are showing strengthening interest in doing the work necessary to comply with the rule, both for brand and financial reasons. In this, Intel is widely seen as having made a uniquely serious effort to clean up its global supply chain.

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