As the holiday season kicks into high gear, the issue of conflict minerals is worth reconsidering. As we’ve discussed previously on Shareable, conflict minerals are materials found in many of our tech devices and gadgets sourced from war-torn places including the Congo. The sourcing of these materials directly funds genocide and continued violence. New rules proposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission demand that companies and retailers disclose that they are using materials from such sources, a rule that could affect the entire industry, from Apple to Target.
Predictably, backlash to the proposals is fierce, particularly among retailers and their advocacy groups. As Uri Friedman at the Atlantic Wire explains, retailers claim that they are not complicit in the sourcing of the materials, being unable to credibly track the source of the materials and having little leverage over the manufacturers. Senator Dick Durbin and Rep. Jim McDermott are unmoved by such arguments, stating that “If retailers that contract the manufacture of goods or influence product design are exempt from reporting, then a large, non-transparent use of the black market for DRC conflict minerals would remain.”
Determining the source of all of the materials in our products is a notoriously tricky process, and it’s debatable whether full transparency is possible due to the circuitous routes many of these materials take, from sourcing to manufacture. But these SEC proposals, however implemented, take an important step towards informing consumers where their money is going. For now, most companies remain mum on their materials’ provenance, obscuring the issue and confusing consumers. Of course, there remains a far more Shareable way to ensure that your holiday purchases are not directly supporting genocide and war: the numerous gadget donation and trade services that enable you to put your unwanted tech into circulation or purchase perfectly capable used gadgets.