Hopefully Coming Soon – A “Conflict-Free” Supply Chain

The image above is from a photoessay by photographer Mark Craemer, about the harvesting of minerals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. You may find the images disquieting.

The Dodd-Frank Consumer Protection Act was signed into law by President Obama on July 21st, 2010. Most of it deals with things like bank and credit regulation and Wall Street reform. But there is also a provision (section 1502) that would require companies registered with the SEC to identify that their products are “conflict-free”.

Gary Nevison at Element14 writes (doc):

Over 800 pages into the US Consumer Protection Act (the Act), signed into law by President Obama on 21 July 2010, section 1502 lays the foundations for US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) registered companies being required to make “Disclosures relating to Conflict minerals originating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” (DRC) This will identify those products manufactured by a company that can be proved “DRC Conflict-Free” or otherwise.

A growing number of investigative reports over the past few years have linked the finances generated by the extraction of minerals in and around the DRC to the ongoing extreme conflicts between armed paramilitary organisations, particularly in the eastern regions of the country.

The Act defines the following minerals and their derivatives as “conflict minerals”:

  • Columbite-Tantalite/”Coltan” (the most common source of Tantalum)
  • Wolframite (the primary source of Tungsten),
  • Cassiterite (Tin ore),
  • Gold.

The Act leaves scope for the Secretary of State to amend the definition of ‘conflict mineral’ at a later date.

At the moment, it is very nearly impossible to determine the exact origin of the minerals used in electronic components. For electronics hobbyists, the most likely questionable component would be tantalum capacitors, which are popular due to their low leakage and high capacitive density (more microfarads per cubic millimeter). While it’s true that very few hobbyists are registered with the SEC and subject to the law stated above, I suspect we will all benefit from it.

Ultimately, hobbyists and big companies get their parts from the same component manufacturers. The big companies will be putting pressure on these manufacturers to start identifying their products as conflict-free (or not) so that they can know how to label their own products. In the end, the DIY folks also win, because they will get the same information.

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  1. i wonder if they should have included diamonds as well, ever heard of "blood diamonds". One question, don’t know if you guys know, but do companys have to explicity say that it "is not confict-free" or is it just they can say if it is conflict free, and if no mention of conflict free is mentioned then it is assumed that is not conflict free? that make any sense

  2. The provision addresses ‘blood diamonds’ as well. Pretty much any ‘conflict mineral’ from that part of the world.

    Presumably yes, if it’s not explicitly stated to be ‘conflict free’, then it is assumed to be otherwise. The law says that products sold by companies registered with the SEC must be certified ‘conflict free’, and that the companies must be able to prove it is so. In my opinion, this makes it a simple yes or no issue.

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