8 January 2014

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

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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.

"Two years ago, I told several colleagues that we needed a hard goal, a commitment to reasonably conclude that the metals used in our microprocessors are conflict-free," Intel's CEO, Brian Krzanich, said Monday. "We felt an obligation to implement changes in our supply chain to ensure that our business and our products were not inadvertently funding human atrocities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

(An Intel executive sits on the National Association of Manufacturers' board and is thus technically a party to the current appeal. While a company spokesperson declined to comment on the case, on its website Intel notes that its "positions do not always align 100% with those of the industry and trade organizations to which we belong.")

Intel called the achievement a "critical milestone", while Krzanich said the it was "just a start. We will continue our audits and resolve issues that are found." He also urged the rest of the electronics industry to follow suit.

Others say industry leadership from other sectors is equally important.

"Now that Intel has released the first conflict-free product, it's time for other companies to do the same," Sasha Lezhnev, a senior policy analyst with the Enough Project, an advocacy group here, told IPS. "Particularly for gold - it's important for jewellers to take action, while aerospace companies also need to step up. This problem won't be solved by just one company."

Lezhnev recently returned from the DRC, and notes that Section 1502, despite having yet to come fully into force, has already played a "backbone" role in defunding armed groups in the eastern part of the country. Such groups, he says, are also far less present today in the mining areas.

"Smuggled minerals are now about a third of the price of the [certified] minerals, so the new price this rule helped to spur is offering a strong incentive to build up a conflict-free trade," he says. "You're seeing the disarmament of many armed groups ... and while that is not only because of the new regulation, this rule is offering a strong incentive for them to not restart again."

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