If you want to make your supply chain more responsible, apply some siege mentality

Project in the Congo aims to thwart export of "conflict minerals."

Remember the strategy of sieges? Where hostile forces would paralyze a village or city, by surrounding it and cutting off its food supply chain. I'm not a military-minded person, but you know this has been the critical component of success in many a historic battle.

So, why not apply a little more military thinking to making our supply chains shape up or ship out?

An example of this thinking in action is the phase of a project by the ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative being kicked off this week to trace the original of tin minerals being exported out of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The idea is to provide provenance information (i.e. where it came from) to the minerals that are being taken out of the region and to thwart the ability of warring factions within the Congo to perpetuate violence funded by "conflict materials." Remember the movie Blood Diamond, where a fisherman is kidnapped and made to work in a diamond mine that is funding the war in Sierra Leone? Well the minerals are sort of becoming the new conflict diamonds.

In short, the new tracking project field trial seeks to identify what is legitimate and provide those who use these materials in their products with some verification to that effect. Tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold are commonly used in electronics gadgets -- as well as in the automotive industry. Hewlett-Packard has donated both equipment and funding to help get the project off the ground. Its sustainability expert, Zoe McMahon, is a big advocate of traceability for accountability, as you can read in her post a couple months back at the Huffington Post. There are a number of other electronics companies contributing money or products to the new traceability project, including Analog Devices, Apple, Cabot Supermetals, Dell, EMC, IBM, Intel, Lenovo, Motorola Foundation, Nokia, Philips, RIM, Sony, Talison, Telefonica S.A., Western Digital and Xerox. Overall, there is about $600,000 being poured into getting the six-month field trial off the ground.

Of course, you're not interested in paralyzing the supply chain of your business, you're interested in improving it. But by applying similar systems to trace where things are coming from, you can get smarter about who you want to do business with -- and who you don't.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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