Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Article on Conflict Minerals and Sustainability Certification

Our abstract has been accepted for presentation at the Society and Materials Conference: SAM-7 in April 2013, part of SOVAMET. (Links have been added here.)



Steven B. Young, Yuan Zhe, Goretty Dias

School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo

Certification of “sustainability” of metals is a phenomenon that has already begun and is expected to grow significantly. The status and possibility of metal certification are examined with reference to a detailed case study on the assured sourcing of “conflict-free” metals. 
Resource or commodity certification often includes a number of attributes: industry definition and an understanding of the types and flows of materials of interest; sustainability criteria that are to be certified; and program management, standards and processes that provide governance. Such systems have been widely implemented for a variety of commodities including wood, cotton, fish, palm oil, coffee and diamonds. We consider why metal certification, in comparison, is quite limited and look at prospects for the future.  
Examples related to metals include a number of recent but limited initiatives: Australian “green lead”, Fairtrade and Ecological Gold from South America, precious metals from Utah used in London Olympic medals, and certified sourcing of UK building materials. The Responsible Jewelry Council program, which covers gold and platinum, is likely the most developed. 
We examine the Conflict Free Smelter (CFS) program which evaluates refiners and smelters regarding the sources of minerals they purchase. Since 2010, more than sixty smelters and/or refiners of tin (Sn), tantalum (Ta), tungsten (W) and gold (Au) are aligning to CFS protocols. 
The CFS oversees compliance audits at smelters and refineries facilities.  Participating firms are committed to improving social-sustainability conditions of human rights and reducing violence associated with mining activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Recent NGO campaigns have highlighted the severity of humanitarian conditions in the eastern DRC, not dissimilar to so called “blood diamond” concerns in Africa. For US manufacturers there is added pressure from regulation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). 
The CFS is governed by members from the world-wide electronics industry in cooperation with automotive and other metal-user sectors. It is part of a broader network of activity involving corporates, government, OECD, NGO and industry associations that are seeking legitimate trade in the DRC and neighbouring African countries. One related initiative that aims to produce certifiable conflict-free metal is a chain of custody “pipeline” of metals from miners to smelters and refineries through the supply chain to component producers, and ultimately to brand-name OEMs.