Tracing a path forward-Challenges of the Supply Chain for Target Metals Used in Electronics

A study of the challenges of the supply chain for target metals used in electronics

Diverse sectors such as clothing, automobile manufacturing, forest products, jewelry and electronics have shown a clear trend toward supply chain transparency. Companies, nongovernmental organizations, and agencies are working to address environmental impacts, labor rights, health and safety, displacement and resettlement, and other social and sustainability issues throughout the supply chain. One particular area of recent focus has been the link between mineral extraction, trading, and conflict and human rights abuses  particularly in areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the broader Great Lakes region of Central Africa. These natural resources are sometimes at the center of disputes, directly or indirectly financing warring groups, resulting in violence or other human rights abuses. Conflict areas also appear to have limited attention to safety and environmental protection, which may lead to additional negative legacies.

Minerals originating in conflict regions can end up in electronics and many other products such as jewelry, airplanes, and automobiles as a few examples. Greater awareness of these issues on the part of the public and end-use industries has prompted leading companies in the electronics sector to investigate their supply chains to determine the steps to promote responsible sourcing of specific minerals. However, these companies face significant challenges due to a lack of transparency and complex structure and relationships in particular metals supply chains.

Seeking greater understanding of the challenges and potential pathways to greater transparency in their product supply chains, the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) asked RESOLVE to research the supply chain for electronics products starting with three metals: tin, tantalum, and cobalt.

RESOLVE’s research was built around an effort to trace the supply for these metals beginning with suppliers for GeSI and EICC member companies and then pursuing suppliers upstream in the supply chain. RESOLVE also undertook a desk-based review of supply chain initiatives relevant to the tin, tantalum, and cobalt supply chains, and the supply chain for other metals in electronics such as gold. RESOLVE reviewed initiatives that addressed supply chain transparency as well as human rights, social and environmental issues relevant to the electronics sector. The tracing research was expected to be challenging because of the nature of the supply chains for these metals. As such, the research objectives and strategy were to learn from the discontinuity encountered in the flow of information, in order to identify potential solutions.

RESOLVE committed to the idea that a research project designed with stakeholders was more likely to improve results. Therefore, to inform this work, RESOLVE sought input from a Stakeholder Advisory Group of diverse organizations including GeSI and EICC members, international and local NGOs, mining companies, investors, and trade associations (approximately 30 organizations received materials for review and/or participated on calls).

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