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hot topics in sustainability

Conflict Minerals as a Major Sustainability Issue

31-08-2020

You must have noticed that major brands started sharing their sustainability reports with the public on their webpages. Today, many of them include information on conflict minerals clarifying the company's stance on the topic and outlining the firm's connection to the issue.

Below, you will find an explanation of what conflict minerals are, how they are connected to sustainability, and why it is worth referring to them in your reports.

What Are Conflict Minerals: The Global View

There are multiple types of natural minerals and resources used in the production of goods worldwide. Yet, there are four minerals that attract public attention:

  • Tin

  • Tungsten

  • Tantalum

  • Gold

While these are simply minerals from the general point of view, it is the method and location of their mining that makes them conflict.

Conflict minerals are systematically exploited and traded with particular groups of people in specific areas where such deals contribute to human rights violations. One of the common examples of such a place is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The conflict minerals in the DRC are frequently mined and sold illegally with the support of armed groups or with the use of child or controversial labor under inhuman conditions.

Such exploitation of the natural resources leads to armed conflicts, violation of multiple human rights, and development of a vast corruption within the area as well as globally.

Counteraction

What are conflict minerals?

The fight for humanity, rights, and overall living conditions for everyone on the planet continues to spin up (#BlackLivesMatter or #DomesticViolence are just a few examples from the first half of 2020), and the fight for the people’s rights in the context of conflict materials is also getting a response.

Since conflict minerals are widely used in the production of tech items, producers of these tech devices got urged to follow up on their distribution lines and the use of these materials. After the adoption of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in the US in 2010, all companies distributing their items in the US became obliged to inform their consumers and the government about the source of their materials and minerals.

While the Dodd-Frank itself could not urge the businesses to drop their distribution chains with illegal suppliers, the public opinion continues to pressure the companies to eliminate such unlawful practices. For instance, conflict materials are a big part of Apple’s production process and in 2012-2014, the company had to admit a problem with the human rights within its supply chain. As a result, Apple pulled out a deal with its key supplier Foxconn due to its questionable labor conditions and overall reviewed its suppliers’ chain top to bottom. Overall, about 75% of the world’s smelters and refiners for the conflict minerals have passed the audits and started maintaining legal practices, released from the burden to pay off the armed groups.

Conflict Minerals Compliance

Conflict minerals compliance is not only about the voluntary initiatives and public pressure - the appeared laws that regulate the conflict minerals extraction too. The US has adopted the Conflict Minerals Rule back in 2010 with the adoption of Dodd-Frank. The rest of the world has not have a unified law that would oblige companies to disclose their information on the conflict materials publicly and control the use of these minerals. However, this state of affairs is going to change on January 1, 2021, when the EU Conflict Minerals Law takes effect. The law:

  • Bans the exportation of conflict minerals to the EU

  • Prohibits the conflict minerals use by smelters and refiners globally and within the EU borders

  • Proscribes mine workers' mistreatment

Such a law is yet one more step to the sustainable future for companies globally. Starting January 2021, companies will need to publish sustainability reports, which would have to include details on the conflict materials (currently, this is an optional element of reporting).

Businesses would have to select and verify their supply chains more thoroughly and pay more attention to the working and living conditions of their employees. Better comprehension and adoption of such practices is expected to bring a greater understanding of the human-nature and human-planet coexistence and the global promotion of the sustainability mindset in every aspect of business and people’s life.

Sustainability and Its Pillars

What are the four conflict minerals?

Sustainability became popular around the globe around the 1980s when smart consumption and production of goods started to gain acknowledgment from people. Its main idea is to provide for the needs of the current generation without compromising the options the future generations should have. There are three main pillars that sustainability is composed of: economic, environmental, and social.

The environmental pillar

A lot of companies worldwide adopt environmental sustainability initiatives to minimize their impact on nature. They focus on reducing their waste, carbon footprint, resources usage, and the company’s overall effect on the environment. Such initiatives are currently highly adopted by businesses like Walmart, Apple, or H&M, since they not only increase business value and brand acceptance among the potential buyers and investors, but they also reduce the overall spending a business makes.

The social pillar

The social idea of sustainability is to bring good to people by doing what you do. The social pillar promotes respect for human rights, fair wage, and care and assistance to the employees and the local communities. For example, the company Theo Chocolate helps 5,000 independent farmers to feed their families and give education to their children.

The economic pillar

In terms of economics, everything is simple: a business needs to be profitable to be economically sustainable. Yet, there is one essential “but”: such economic success cannot breach the first two pillars above. And this “but” frequently saves companies from extreme ideas like giving up fossil fuels entirely or reducing paper usage to 0% within a business unit. Oftentimes, companies adopt UN sustainable development goals to take a high road with reasonable corporate ideas.

Conflict Minerals within the Sustainability Paradigm

Why should we care about conflict minerals?

Conflict minerals pose a threat to every pillar of the sustainability paradigm. The questionable use of child labor and the rage of the public opinion force countries to review their conflict materials policies and the example set by the United States under Obama’s administration showed the path for the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, dealing with the black market turned out to be a preferred solution for many companies, and countries have not yet come to a single solution to this controversial problem. While the sustainability movement promoted some change, conflict materials remain among the top sustainability issues in the world of technology.

Why Should We Care About Conflict Minerals?

We share a beautiful home - planet Earth - and it is impossible to enjoy the conveniences it may offer at the cost of oppression and ruined lives, even if this is something we do not observe in person. What is more, with the EU Law coming into enforcement, the businesses worldwide will have to comply with the regulations and pay attention to their employees, partners, and resources usage. Compliance with the law and adoption of the new practices will allow organizations to stay on top of the competition, increase productiveness, improve brand image and attract fresh talents on board.

Sustain Online offers a wide variety of sustainability training sessions that can help redesign your existing practices and promote constant progress. Today, there is no need to spend working hours going in for classes or hiring an exclusive teacher for the staff. We provide learning through online micro-courses, during which you and your employees can grasp the idea as a part of your day-to-day operations without losing productivity. Now is the time to change your stance on the company’s values and lead the world of business for a sustainable future.

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