GLOBAL – Cassiterite, coltan and wolframite. What reads like a lecture in some geology science department is also a list of ingredients to many items of everyday life, from light bulbs to laptops and mobile phones. These minerals are found in many countries around the world. One of the places is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where there are also rebel groups fighting a civil war in the eastern parts of the country. In these areas, mines are targets of militant groups who illicitly trade cassiterite, coltan and wolframite. Hence minerals originating from the conflict areas in DRC are often referred to as “conflict metals”.
A while back, we ran a story on Conversations about how we have no taste for unethical sources of metals. Our distaste remains: any activities that support the militant activities of fuel conflict are totally unacceptable.
Though Nokia is not involved in the purchase of minerals, we ban the use of conflict metals and demand that our suppliers abstain from the use of metals originating from conflict areas. Specifically, we do the following: since 2001 we’ve required written assurance from all of our Tantalum capacitor suppliers that the Tantalum (from Coltan) does not originate from the illegal mines in DRC, and we have also expanded this practice to our vibra suppliers regarding Tungsten (from Wolframite) and Tin solder suppliers (from Cassiterite). Furthermore, all of our key suppliers are required to map their supply chains for the metals in their components back down to smelter and then to source.
While we make an effort to ensure that conflict metals do not end-up in any of our phones, we recognize that this is part of a bigger issue that cannot be solved by one company, or even one industry. The electronics industry – through GeSI and EICC – have been doing pioneering work in developing a smelter auditing process for validating that Tantalum smelters are receiving conflict free Tantalum. Nokia supports this validation process because smelters are in a pivotal position – at that point, it can still be verified where the material exactly originates. Once a mineral is smelted, any characteristic of the ore, or its origin, is gone. Validation for Tantalum smelters starts this year, and similar initiatives are started for Tin.
We are pleased to be part of the industry that has picked up the ball and worked out a validation process that will provide a third-party assurance of conflict-free products. Of course, it is frustrating that the challenges around metal traceability are taking some time to tackle, but an effective and sustainable solution requires work and agreements across several industries, governmental bodies, scientific experts and non-governmental organizations, and this takes time.
New legislation in the United States requires all companies listed on US stock exchanges to report whether they buy minerals from DRC or from any of its nine neighboring countries and, if so, from where. We welcome any initiatives that increase transparency and require every company and all industries to take decisive action and apply stringent practices to put a stop to illicit trade. In DRC, there is a large legal mining industry that provides employment and income for many people. As many NGO groups point out, a boycott or embargo would only damage, not improve, the economy and stability of the country.
picture credit: Julien Hameis