U.S. to force companies to disclose if electronic materials come from war-torn countries

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, August 23, 2012 11:14 EDT
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Two refugees from fighting in the Congo. Photo: Flickr user babasteve, creative commons licensed.
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The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted Wednesday to force corporations to disclose whether they use minerals like tantalum, tin, gold and tungsten purchased from African conflict zones in and around the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

So-called “conflict minerals” are seen as fueling much of the fighting in the DRC, with government troops and local militias locked in bitter struggle to control illicit mining operations that enslave thousands of men, women and children to supply many of the raw materials used to make mobile phones, computers, game consoles and other electronics.

The SEC’s Republican commissioners, Daniel Gallagher and Troy Paredes, were responsible for the lone dissenting ballots. The three Democrats on the commission, Luis Aguilar, Elisse Walter and SEC chair Mary Schapiro, supported the rule.

In prepared remarks on the rule, Schapiro explained that “the exploitation and trade of conflict minerals by armed groups is helping finance conflict in the [DRC] region,” insisting the crisis “warrants these disclosure requirements.”

And while it does not come with any punitive sanctions for companies that use conflict minerals, they will be forced to conduct inquiries into their minerals’ “country of origin” and disclose publicly if they learn any of the materials came from the DRC or neighboring countries.

Companies which determine that their minerals did not come from conflict zones, or companies that purchase directly from recycled scrap, will get to label their products free of conflict minerals. Companies that find their minerals are coming from conflict zones will be forced to disclose which products contain them and where they came from on their official website and in SEC filings.

In a report published earlier this month, activists with the RAISE Hope for Congo campaign said that companies like HTC, Canon, Nintendo, Sony, Samsung, Nikon, Sharp, Toshiba and LG are among the worst offenders when it comes to conflict mineral use.

The rule was mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (PDF), passed by Congress in 2010.

Photo: Flickr user babasteve, creative commons licensed.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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