In the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where armed conflict has claimed more than 5.4 million lives over the past 15 years, militant groups controlling most of the region’s mines use the trade in tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold as important sources of funding. At the same time, this trade—which feeds into complex supply chains for products ranging from cell phones and cutting tools to jet engines and jewelry—is an important source of income for a million people in the region.
The situation presents a dilemma: How can business support the people who rely on these minerals for their livelihoods without perpetuating the use of “conflict minerals” in this war zone? Campaigning NGOs, development organizations, governments, and industry working groups are addressing this important situation in a variety of ways. BSR is promoting collective action to reduce human suffering and advance economic development through a working group that began in 2009 with companies including Dell, HP, Intel, and Motorola.
The complexity of these issues—the need to improve supply chain transparency, sever the link between the minerals trade and conflict, and continue to support local communities—requires multidimensional solutions involving business, governments, and others working toward a common goal. Using BSR’s experience building collaborative solutions to human rights dilemmas, and working with our extensive network of NGO partners, we developed a plan to raise companies’ awareness of the issues and facilitate constructive dialogue among business, investors, government, and NGOs. This necessary step laid the groundwork for further work in 2011 focusing on identifying actions companies can take to reduce their use of conflict minerals.
Following an initial BSR-led forum in 2009 that gathered nearly 50 people to strategize potential actions, we partnered with the GE Foundation to expand our efforts and bring in additional industries. In May 2010, we published a report highlighting critical supply chain issues, opportunities to support diplomatic peace-building efforts, and ways to promote local economic empowerment. We concurrently convened a second forum with more than 100 industry, investor, and NGO representatives to explore action in these areas.
Already, our efforts have increased business leaders’ awareness, promoted action on the DRC conflict and its link to the minerals trade, and helped build a shared understanding between civil society and business on how the private sector can contribute to conflict reduction. In collaboration with the shareholder advocacy group As You Sow, we catalyzed new partnerships among companies, investors, and NGOs to address these challenges.
BSR worked with these organizations to prepare the only multi-stakeholder input to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) regulations requiring publicly listed companies to report on their use of conflict minerals. More than 20 companies, investors, and NGOs signed the consensus document, which included recommendations for reliable supply chain due diligence processes, third-party auditing, and company disclosures.
While our work has supported company initiatives and the development of strong, consensus-based SEC requirements, we are acutely aware that there is no easy solution to the conflict minerals issue. We continue to advise companies on ways to address conflict minerals in their supply chains and support ongoing multi-stakeholder engagement to solve this complex challenge.