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undeterred

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Combating Tech’s Conflict Minerals With Disclosure

APRIL 15, 2013, 12:05 AM By QUENTIN HARDY



Some of our most advanced technology products have helped finance the deadliest conflicts of our time. Perhaps, if tech companies change some of their habits, that can change. An essential part of most cellphones is the mineral tantalite, which is frequently obtained from the Democratic Republic of Congo under murky circumstances. Tin, tungsten and gold also finance armed groups in Congo on their way to our laptops and tablets. Hewlett-Packard announced on Monday that it is publishing a list of 195 ore smelters, located around the world, that are identified with the minerals inside the company’s products. Within about two years, the company says, it wants its parts suppliers, which buy from these smelters, to make sure its minerals were not obtained from conflict zones.

“We believe the upshot of this is, over time, to lower violence and repression,” said Tony Prophet, who runs the global supply chain for H.P.’s personal systems group. “The smelters are the chokepoint. Once you locate them, you can start to pressure them to set a standard.” While H.P. may be as much as four steps away from the smelters in the supply chain, Mr. Prophet said, as a major purchaser it can still compel good behavior.

In August, the Securities and Exchange Commission also adopted a rule requiring all publicly traded companies to disclose their use of certain conflict minerals beginning next year, although that rule is facing a court challenge. The issue illuminates a chaotic underside to the clean orderliness of high-tech products. Over the last 15 years, some nine nation’s armies, and perhaps 15 or more armed groups, have fought in Congo. The body count for the region’s wars is estimated to be over five million, making it the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.

This coincides with the rise in popularity of mobile devices, which has increased demands for minerals found in Congo. That, in turn, attracts warlords. Despite all the killing, supplies have been stable. The minerals, it turns out, are aggregated through a series of middlemen, much the way illicit drugs are gathered from small-scale growers.

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/15/combating-techs-conflict-minerals-with-disclosure/
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