Certification: A Core Issue

By Rhona Murray

The mineral journey between mine and mobile phone may be traceable in succinct steps but can include up to fifteen companies along the way. Implementing a certification mechanism, as was attempted by the Kimberly Process for diamonds, requires high levels of collaboration between companies, industries, regional governments, international partner governments, civil society, and NGOs. Nonetheless, substantial progress is being made in this area in order to create a viable certification scheme to eradicate conflict minerals in electronic products. 

Recognition of the illegal exploitation of natural resources which creates the missing link between the supply chain of natural resources and the formal economies of mineral rich states was first addressed by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region(ICGLR).  The Regional Initiative against the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources (RINR), which is legally based on the Protocol on the Fight against the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources, aims to sever the link between mineral profit and rebel financing. The principal goal is to construct a regional certification scheme to audit and certify the trade of casserite, coltan, wolframite and gold. In order to accomplish this the ICGLR has acknowledged the importance of cross-sector collaboration and is further responsible for bringing together experts, ministers of ICGLR Member states[1], the OECD, consult industries and end-users of minerals to tackle the issue.

From this initiative stemmed the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) publication of the Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas which was the first collaborative initiative between governments and stakeholders regarding responsible supply chain management of minerals. The work of the OECD in ensuring that the extraction and trade of minerals neither causes nor instigates conflict and insecurity overlapped with the RINR and this became the basis for a partnership agreement with the ICGLR signed in December 2010.

Another invaluable joint partnership involves the ITRI’s new Tin Supply Chain Initiative (iTSCi) Phase 2 mine-to-export traceability and due diligence scheme and the ICGLR Regional Certification Mechanism. The idea is to track the minerals of tin and tantalum ore through a “bag and tag” tracking system from Congo and Rwanda. This collaboration is in part due to the recent Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act passed in the US in July 2010 which many in the mineral industry believe will threaten trade as minerals which are not registered and traceable under the iTSCi system will not be accepted into the international supply chain of purchasers from this year.  Ambassador Liberata Mulamula, ICGLR Executive Secretary, stated that “by working together with ITRI and the industry we can deliver the fast results that we need today. This partnership will also help us to learn the lessons for the implementation of the broader regional certification scheme that the ICGLR Member States are going to implement. I am therefore looking forward to making this co-operation live and active.” This initiative is also in effect in several other states, most notably via the Rwandan Geology and Mines Authority (OGMR) who are currently implementing the system in Rwanda.

One of the most promising indicators of progress has come from the electronic industry’s sector-wide initiative implemented through the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (EICC-GeSI). Interestingly, this is where Apple appears again as one of the 51 members from the electronics, information and communication technology firms that make up the EICC and are involved in crafting the industry code of conduct on social, environmental and human rights standards while the GeSI gathers input from all the major telecommunications companies. Through the Extractives Working Group, of which Apple is also a member, the Smelter Validation Program (a pilot audit scheme for tantalum suppliers) has been implemented in order to account for 80% of global tantalum processing. Currently, the EICC-GeSI is engaging the ITRI to work in conjunction with them and apply this useful model for mineral supply chain audits of tin and others. 

Of course this progress, while commendable, still faces sizeable challenges. Data transparency and the governance structure of these new organisations are limited. Presently, the EICC-GeSI is financed solely by companies, who also oversee the operational management and this is not a credible or sustainable long term strategy. The other central difficulty is that the issue of certifying conflict minerals is a cross-sector process which demands the commitment of all industries. The auto, aerospace, medical, jewellery and industrial machinery industries are heavily dependent upon minerals from the Great Lakes Region and just as legally obligated to the SEC as the electronics industry.

Apple has shown progress is possible if there is organisational will. The challenge now is for it to sustain this will and resist the temptation to devalue the idea of corporate social responsibility. As a company with a brand value of $29.5 billion, it is reasonable to think Apple could invest some resources into preventing its core from turning rotten.



[1] ICGLR Member States: Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Soudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.


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