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Conflict resources are natural resources extracted in a conflict zone and sold to perpetuate the fighting. There is both anecdotal and statistical evidence that belligerent accessibility to precious commodities can prolong conflicts (a "resource curse"). The most prominent contemporary example is the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where various armies, rebel groups, and outside actors have profited while contributing to violence and exploitation during wars in the region.
The most commonly mined conflict minerals are cassiterite (for tin), wolframite (for tungsten), coltan (for tantalite), and gold ore, which are extracted from the Eastern Congo, and passed through a variety of intermediaries before being purchased by multinational electronics companies. These minerals are essential in the manufacture of a variety of devices, including consumer electronics such as mobile phones, laptops, and MP3 players.
The extraction and sale of blood diamonds, also known as "conflict diamonds", is a better-known phenomenon which occurs under virtually identical conditions.
Various international efforts have been made to reduce trade in conflict resources, to reduce the incentive to extract and fight over them. For example, in the United States, the 2010 Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act requires manufacturers to audit their supply chains and report conflict minerals usage.
The concept of 'conflict resource', or 'conflict commodity' emerged in the late 1990s, initially in relation to 'conflict diamonds' financing rebellions in Angola and Sierra Leone. (The media often called these 'blood diamonds'.) Then 'conflict timber' financed hostilities in Cambodia and Liberia.
The advocacy group Global Witness has called for an international definition facilitating a more systematic application of UN resolutions, the prevention of complicity in abuses during hostilities by commercial entities exploiting or trading in conflict resources, and the prosecution of war profiteers suspected of supporting or abetting war criminals..
Conflict resources are natural resources whose systematic exploitation and trade in a context of conflict contribute to, benefit from or result in the commission of serious violations of human rights, violations of international humanitarian law or violations amounting to crimes under international law.—Global Witness, proposed Definition of conflict resources
Since 1996 the Bonn International Center for Conversion has tracked resource governance and conflict intensity by country. Aside from fossil fuels, metals, diamonds, and timber it tracks the governance of other primary goods that might fund conflicts, including: poppy seeds (Afghanistan), rubber (Côte d'Ivoire), cotton (Zambia), and cocoa (Indonesia).
The four most prominent conflict minerals, for example codified in the U.S. Conflict Minerals Law, are:
These are sometimes referred to as "the 3T's and gold", 3TG, or even simply the "3T's". Under the US Conflict Minerals Law, additional minerals may be added to this list in the future.
As of 2010, the conflict resource fueling the world's deadliest war is gold in the Congo. Gold bars are less traceable than diamonds, and gold is abundant in the Kivu conflict region. In any case, no jewellery industry standard exists for verifying gold origination, as it does for diamonds (though jeweler's total outlay on gold is five times that on diamonds). Other conflict minerals being illicitly exported from the Congo include cobalt, tungsten, cassiterite, and coltan (which provides the tantalum for mobile phones, and is also said to be directly sustaining the conflict).
Armed conflict and mineral resource looting by the Congolese National Army and various armed rebel groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP), a proxy Rwandan militia group has occurred throughout the late 20th century and the 21st century. Additionally, the looting of the Congo's natural resources is not limited to domestic actors. During the Congo Wars (First Congo War (1996–1997) and Second Congo War (1998–2003)), Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi particularly profited from the Congo's resources. These governments have continued to smuggle resources out of the Congo to this day.
The profits from the sale of these minerals has financed fighting in the Second Congo War and ongoing follow-on conflicts, and control of lucrative mines has also itself become a military objective.
Mines in eastern Congo are often located far from populated areas in remote and dangerous regions. A recent study by International Peace Information Service (IPIS) indicates that armed groups are present at more than 50% of mining sites. At many sites, armed groups illegally tax, extort, and coerce civilians to work. Miners, including children, work up to 48-hour shifts amidst mudslides and tunnel collapses that kill many. The groups are often affiliated with rebel groups, or with the Congolese National Army, but both use rape and violence to control the local population.
In April 2009, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) introduced the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 (S. 819) to require electronics companies to verify and disclose their sources of cassiterite, wolframite, and tantalum. This legislation died in committee. However, Brownback added similar language as Section 1502 of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which passed Congress and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 21, 2010.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued its proposed, far-reaching draft regulations to implement the Conflict Mineral Law. The regulations were proposed on December 15, 2010, and published in the Federal Register of December 23, 2010 would require U.S. and certain foreign companies to report and make public the use of so-called "conflict minerals" from the Democratic Republic of the Congo or adjoining countries in their products. Comments on this proposal were originally due by January 31, 2011, but SEC extended the public comment period until March 2, 2011. The law itself requires the regulations to be finalized no later than April 15, 2011. According to the SEC website, section 1502 is one of the rules scheduled to be promulgated between January 2012 and June 30, 2012. In a March 2012 statement, SEC chairwoman Mary Schapiro said that the agency hopes to complete the process in “the next couple of months”, a statement that would be consistent with the website’s target date.[dated info]
One report concerning the proposal stated the following statistics for the submitted comments:
That report also contained what it calls a "preview of the final SEC regulations" synthesized from their detailed research and analysis of a large body of documents, reports and other information on the law, proposed regulation and the current budget/political setting facing the SEC in the current administration.
The comments on the proposal were reviewable by the public.
The final rule went into effect 13 November 2012.
The SEC rule has not gone unnoticed by the international community, including entities seeking ways to undermine any required traceability efforts. A report published by a metals trading publication illustrated one DRC ore/mineral flow method that has apparently been devised to thwart detection.
On July 15, 2011, the US State Department issued a statement on the subject. Section 1502(c) of the Law mandates that the State Department work in conjunction with SEC on certain elements of conflict minerals policy development and support.
On October 23, 2012 U.S. State Dept Officials asserted that ultimately, it falls on the U.S. State Dept. to determine when this rule would no longer apply.
In April of 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down several parts of the SEC Rules as unconstitutional.
Minerals mined in Eastern Congo pass through the hands of numerous middlemen as they are shipped out of Congo, through neighboring countries such as Rwanda or Burundi, to East Asian processing plants. Because of this, the US Conflict Minerals Law applies to materials originating (or claimed to originate) from the DRC as well as the nine adjoining countries: Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo Republic (a different nation than DRC), Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
Fundamentally, the US Conflict Minerals Law contains two requirements that are closely connected: independent third party supply chain traceability audits and reporting of audit information to the public and SEC. However, even companies not directly regulated by SEC will be impacted by the audit requirements because information/audit requirements will be pushed down through entire supply chains, including privately held and foreign-owned companies.
SEC has estimated that 1,199 “issuers” (i.e., companies subject to filing other SEC reports) will be required to submit full conflict mineral reports. This estimate was developed by finding the amount of tantalum produced by the DRC in comparison to global production (15% - 20%). The Commission selected the higher figure of 20% and multiplied that by 6,000 (the total number of "issuers" SEC will be required to do initial product/process evaluations). This estimate does not account for the companies who supply materials to the “issuers” (but are not themselves SEC-regulated) but who will almost certainly be required to conduct conflict minerals audits to meet the demands of those customers. Other estimates indicate that the total number of US companies likely impacted may exceed 12,000.
A study of the potential scope and impact of the regulation was undertaken in early 2011 by the IPC - Association Connecting Electronic Industries trade association. This study was submitted as part of the association's comments to SEC on the rule and provides the respondents' views on their estimates of the breadth of effort required to meet the regulations. The study states that the IPC survey respondents had a median of 163 direct suppliers. Applying that number to the SEC's estimated number of impacted issuers results in the possibility of over 195,000 businesses that could be subject to some level of supply chain traceability effort.
Under the law, companies would be required to submit an annual conflict minerals report to the SEC if: (a) they are required to file reports with the SEC under the Exchange Act of 1934 and, (b) conflict minerals are necessary to the functionality or production of a product that they manufacture or contract to be manufactured. That statement contains two separate - but critical concepts: the purpose of the conflict mineral in the product/process, and the control that the company exerts over the manufacturing process/specifications.
A company would be deemed to contract an item to be manufactured if it:
This language implies that some retailers who are not themselves manufacturers are likely to be subject to the audit and disclosure requirements.
A company is considered to be “contracting to manufacture” a product if it has some actual influence over the manufacturing of that product. This determination is based on facts and circumstances, taking into account the degree of influence a company exercises over the product’s manufacturing.
A company is not be deemed to have influence over the manufacturing if it merely:
The proposed regulations attempted to clarify that tools used in the assembly/manufacturing process will not trigger the applicability of the law. The intent is to cover minerals/metals that are incorporated directly into the final product. There is currently nothing specifically addressing the applicability to intermediate chemical processes using chemicals that contain conflict minerals. Additionally, neither the law nor the proposed regulation established a de minimis quantity or other form of materiality threshold that would preclude the applicability of the auditing/reporting requirements.
The law mandates the use of an "independent private sector auditor" to conduct the audits. SEC has proposed two different activities related to the audits: the "reasonable inquiry" and the "due diligence". Should the final rule include this structure, the reasonable inquiry would be the first step to determine if the company can on its own, using reasonable efforts and trustworthy information, make a reliable determination as to the source/origin of its tin, tantalum, tungsten and/or gold. Where companies are unable to make such a determination for any reason, they would then be required to take the next step of the "due diligence", which is the independent private sector audit.
The statute specifies that the audits be "conducted in accordance with standards established by the Comptroller General of the United States, in accordance with rules promulgated by the Commission." This means that the same auditing standards that apply to other SEC auditing requirements will also apply to conflict minerals audits  Because of this statutory mandate, SEC will have little discretion to allow companies to issue self-generated statements or certifications to satisfy the law.
Third party audits for conflict minerals supply chain traceability began in summer 2010 under the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), a US-based electronics manufacturing trade association. Under this program, EICC selected three audit firms to conduct the actual audits, with two of the three participating in the pilot audits in 2010. After concluding the pilot, one of the two firms involved in 2010 withdrew from the program specifically in response to the SEC's proposal and to reduce potential legal risks to the audited entities.
Neither the law nor the proposed regulations provide guidance on what will be considered an acceptable audit scope or process, preferring to allow companies the flexibility meeting the requirement in a manner that is responsive to their own individual business and supply chain. At the same time, the law contains a provision that preserves the government's rights to deem any report, audit or other due diligence processes as being unreliable, and in such cases, the report shall not satisfy the requirements of the regulations, further emphasizing the need for such audits to conform to established SEC auditing standards. Comments on the proposed regulation pointed out that, should SEC not specify an applicable audit standard, it cannot also be silent or ambiguous on the auditor standards as well, or the Commission will violate the plain language of the Law mandating "standards established by the Comptroller General of the United States". It is generally expected that SEC will provide specificity on both the audit standard and the auditor standard. SEC's proposal attempted to clarify its position on auditor requirements.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published its Guidance on conflict minerals supply chain traceability. This guidance is gaining much momentum as "the" standard within US policy. However, a recent critical analysis of the standard in comparison to existing US auditing standards under SEC highlighted a number of significant inconsistencies and conflict with relevant US standards. Companies subject to the US law who implement the OECD Guidance without regard for the SEC auditing standards may face legal compliance risks.
Companies subject to the SEC reporting requirement would be required to disclose whether the minerals used in their products originated in the DRC or adjoining countries (as defined above). The law mandates that this reporting be submitted/made available annually. Many comments to the proposed regulation asked SEC to clarify whether the report must be "furnished"—meaning it is made available to SEC but not directly incorporated within the company's formal financial report—or "submitted"—meaning the report is directly incorporated into the financial report. At first glance, this may appear to be a minor point; however, this difference is very important in determining the audit/auditor standards and related liabilities.
If it is determined that none of the minerals originated in the DRC or adjoining countries, the report must include a statement to that effect and provide an explanation of the country of origin analysis that was used to arrive at the ultimate conclusion. On the other hand, if conflict minerals originating in the DRC or adjoining countries were used (or if it is not possible to determine the country of origin of the conflict minerals used), companies would be required to state as such in the annual report. In either case, companies would also be required to make this information public by posting their annual conflict minerals report on their websites, and providing the SEC with the internet addresses where the reports may be found. Further, the proposed regulations would require companies to maintain records relating to the country of origin of conflict minerals used in their products.
Media outlets have reported that many companies required to file Specialized Disclosure Reports to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and any necessary conflict minerals reports for 2013 under the SEC’s conflict minerals rule are struggling to meet the June 2, 2014 report filing deadline. Many impacted companies were hoping for clarification regarding filing requirements, from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from a lawsuit filed by the National Association of Manufacturers.  The appellate court’s ruling left the necessary conflict minerals reporting requirements largely intact and it has been suggested that impacted companies should review the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance’s response to the court’s ruling which provides guidance regarding the effect of the appellate court’s ruling.
The law has been criticised by many for not addressing the root causes of the conflict, leaving to the Congolese government the responsibility for providing an environment in which companies can practice due diligence and legitimately purchase the minerals they need, when the reality is that mechanisms for transparency do not exist. The effect has been to halt legitimate mining ventures that provided livelihoods for people, reducing the Congo's legal exports of tantalum by 90%.
There are a number of organizations and celebrities that are working to raise awareness of and find solutions for conflict minerals. Some of these include:
Moreover, FairPhone is the name of a foundation to raise awareness for conflict minerals in the mobile industry and a company which aims on producing a smart phone with 'fair' conditions along the supply chain. Various industry and trade associations are also monitoring developments in conflict minerals laws and traceability frameworks. Some of these represent electronics, retailers, jewelry, mining, electronics components, and general manufacturing sectors. One organization - ITRI (a UK-based international non-profit organization representing the tin industry and sponsored/supported by its members, principally miners and smelters.) had spearheaded efforts for the development and implementation of a "bag and tag" scheme at the mine as a key element of credible traceability. The program and related efforts were initially not likely to extend beyond the pilot phase due to a variety of implementation and funding problems that occurred. In the end however, the device did enter the market.
In late March 2011, the UK government launched an informational section on its Foreign & Commonwealth Office website dedicated to conflict minerals. This information resource is intended to assist British companies in understanding the issues and, specifically, the US requirements.
On Jan 6th 2014, the semiconductor giant Intel announced that it would distance itself from conflict minerals. As a result all Intel microprocessors henceforth will be conflict-free.
Manufacturers and supply chain partners needing to comply with the ever increasing reporting regulations have a few commercial options available.
A major research report from November 2012 by the Southern Africa Resource Watch revealed that gold miners in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo were being exploited by corrupt government officials, bureaucrats and security personnel, who all demand illegal tax, fees and levies from the miners without delivering any services in return. Despite the alleged gold rush in regions of the country, none of the population and workforce is benefiting from this highly lucrative industry.
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