Responsible sourcing of metals: Certification approaches for conflict minerals and conflict-free metals
Steven B. Young
Responsible sourcing of metals is characterized as an approach for life cycle management (LCM) and sustainable supply chain management (SSCM) of social issues. The focus is on the supply of “conflict minerals”—tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold (3TG)—whose mining and trade are implicated in conflict and severe social conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Downstream manufacturers are using compliance strategies to reach multiple tiers and long distances into product-chains to buy conflict-free sources of these metals from mines, smelters and refineries.
The research uses qualitative methods and public documents to compare sixteen conflict mineral programs. A theoretical framework in three dimensions guided the enquiry into program governance, program standards, and certification processes. Additional empirical analysis of the Conflict Free Sourcing Program, the largest and most central industry-led effort on conflict minerals, was supported by confidential access to audit reports, company policies and management procedures on more than 140 metallurgical facilities.
Results and discussion
In less than four years, conflict-free sourcing programs have impacted global 3TG metals supply chains, as indicated by pricing and significant producer compliance. Electronics, jewelry and other manufacturers—many influenced by US conflict-minerals regulation—are “pulling” metals markets for conflict-free sourcing. Private standards programs focus on product-chain chokepoints to support efficient engagement: a limited number of 3TG facilities that are influenced to implement “responsibility management systems,” practice conflict-free sourcing, and undergo compliance audits. Some supply chains operate as closed-pipelines along the full product chain from mine to end-product. Tantalum has been most successful as about 95% of producers are compliant; however for gold, in particular, the scale of compliance is challenged.
Downstream manufacturing industries are “governing at a distance” the management practices of upstream raw materials producers. For LCM, responsible sourcing may be applicable to product chains with other metals and commodities. For SSCM conflict free sourcing indicates how compliance and supplier development strategies can penetrate multiple tiers into supply chains to address social issues in developing countries. Future research is needed on understanding more on supplier companies and their motivations, and on sustainability performance outcomes for the conflict minerals problem.
Keywords Auditing, certification, conflict minerals, governance, metals, mining, responsible sourcing, social aspects, raw materials, sustainable supply chain management, standards