Friday, 31 October 2014

Presentation at Balsillie School of International Affairs

Invited presentation - October 31, 2014

Certified conflict-free minerals: Private-sector governance of raw materials supply-chains

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Standards and third-party certification provide assurance to end-users on the provenance of their purchased commodities. This has happened over the last decades for food and biotic commodities -- like wood and coffee; and is now emerging for abiotic materials: oil, minerals, gems, aggregates.  

The most advanced effort on metals is on conflict minerals – three metals:  tin, tantalum, tungsten, gold (the so called 3TG) implicated in severe conflict in the DRC and surrounding areas in the middle of Africa.  The administrative infrastructure is well underway for 3TG certification using a “chain-of-custody” from mine to smelter to manufacturer to end-user company. Most of the push has come from the likes of Intel, Apple and Motorola (and Blackberry, and other Silicon Valley firms) -- who want to protect reputation of their consumer products, and do the right thing (and comply with a new conflict minerals reporting US regulation created under Dodd-Frank).

Dr. Young uses three dimensions to examine the programs: standards on practices, governance of the organizations/schemes, and certification processes. For governance: there are partnerships between government, civil society and multinational firms. Money, capacity, information tools, databases, etc. Plus people to run programs “in region” in central Africa, auditors to do checks, management systems and training at companies (big and very small), etc.

He raises questions about whether private certification (which aims to give assurance to end-users) is the right tool for the upstream issues (in the mine, in the community); why certification is working (apparently it is, for the most part) for the 3TG (actually not for gold); how standards and certification will likely spread (to other metals and minerals, to other geographic regions, to other issues beyond “conflict”, and to address other end-user or NGO needs).