US Congress Ready to Act on Human Rights Crisis in Tech Industry Supply Chains

Following on from yesterday's riff on traceability technology for Vietnamese fisheries, it turns out Silicon Valley may yet be its own best customer. Despite common knowledge of serious human rights abuses relating to the mining of cassiterite in the Democratic Republic of Congo the industry has not gone far enough to guarantee ethical sourcing to satisfy increasingly concerned stakeholders.

Following on from yesterday's riff on traceability technology for Vietnamese fisheries, it turns out Silicon Valley may yet be its own best customer. Despite common knowledge of serious human rights abuses relating to the mining of cassiterite in the Democratic Republic of Congo the industry has not gone far enough to guarantee ethical sourcing to satisfy increasingly concerned stakeholders. (see my post on this from March 08). As a result US Congress is now prepared to intervene with the introduction of the Brownback Durbin Feingold Congo Conflict Minerals Act.

Sen Brownback said:

Metals derived from inhumanely mined minerals go into electronic products used by millions of Americans. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, many people - especially women and children - are victimized by armed groups who are trying to make a profit from mining 'conflict minerals.' The legislation introduced today brings accountability and transparency to the supply chain of minerals used in the manufacturing of many electronic devices. I hope the legislation will help save lives.

Sen Durbin said:

Without knowing it, tens of millions of people in the United States may be putting money in the pockets of some of the worst human rights violators in the world, simply by using a cell phone or laptop computer. We ought to do all we can to make sure that the products we use and the minerals we import, in no way support those who violate human rights abroad.

Sen Feingold said:

When I traveled to eastern Congo, I saw firsthand the grave suffering of people who have lived through a decade of conflict and humanitarian crisis. This conflict, which has killed more than five million people, is fueled in part by the exploitation and unregulated trade of certain minerals used in cell phones, PDAs and other electronic devices Americans use every day. Profits from these minerals have been used to finance illegal armed groups that commit horrific human rights abuses. By passing this bill, we can shine a light on the mining and trading of these minerals, and help companies that produce these everyday devices to take responsibility for their suppliers. Just like the diamond trade, we must work toward a conflict-free mining economy.

According to Brownback's press release:

Under the legislation, U.S.-registered companies selling products using columbite-tantalite, cassiterite, or wolframite, or derivatives of these minerals, would be required to annually disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission the country of origin of those minerals. If the country is DR Congo or neighboring countries, the company would need to disclose the mine of origin.

Back in February a coalition of NGO's wrote to Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, Sony, LG Electronics, RIM, Apple, Dell, HP, Acer, Lenovo, Toshiba, IBM, Philips, Sandisk, Microsoft, Nintendo, Canon, Sharp, Intel & Panasonic. The coalition asked these companies to pledge the following:

  • Trace the supply chain for all tin, tantalum, tungsten, or gold in their products to verify their mines of origin; and
  • Conduct independently verifiable supply chain audits to document the routes taken, intermediaries involved, and transactions made from mine of origin to final product.

Pledges so far: null. Interestingly the Electronic Industry Corporate Citizenship Initiative (formerly known as the Electronic Industry Code of Conduct) which was essentially set up to deal with such issues is oddly silent on this on their website.

Here is a short video on the situation at the mine face in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Though it is 2 years old it would appear nothing much has changed either in DRC or Silicon Valley.

Part 1

Part 2