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SEC wants “conflict minerals” audits by Monday, still no indication on sanctions

Companies using “conflict minerals” in products must provide a plan to US regulators by Monday with each one having to explain how it is preparing to deal with them.

Related: Intel hit by protests over Congo materials

The US Securities and Exchanges Commission [SEC] is making all companies audit entire supply chains to make sure that money is not being funnelled to criminal groups in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC].

It has yet to be revealed by the SEC whether there will be any repercussions for those that fail to comply with the order and the likes of Apple, Intel, and HP have already submitted audits, some being made public.

The term “conflict minerals” refers to raw materials like gold, tungsten, tantalium and tin, and the issue has come to a head due to many mining groups being controlled by militia groups in volatile territories.

Campaign groups are unhappy with certain reports that have been submitted and want more pressure to be applied to companies to make sure that audits are of a higher quality than is currently present.

"We are disappointed with quite a lot of the reports we have seen so far," Emily Norton from the Global Witness group told the BBC. “We recognise some companies have made a huge amount of progress, but it's a question of variation... in the standard of reporting. Some companies are just not providing detail on the management system they should have in place, or the steps they are taking to identify risk, to manage risk, and to avoid the risk that they are financing armed groups through their supply chain."

Some companies, such as Intel, have sent people to countries that are part of the supply chain, like the DRC, whereas others simply aren’t interested in doing so.

"Many [suppliers] that we found just didn't know and weren't interested - they were just looking for the cheapest source of mineral that they could, and not caring about where it came from,” stated Carolyn Duran who is leading Intel’s efforts to reduce the use of “conflict minerals”.

Apple’s audit found that 21 smelters and refiners in the supply chain came from mines in the DRC and adjoining countries. 17 were subject to third party audits to discover the source of materials and four were yet to do so, Apple adding that any supplier refusing to cooperate is no longer used.

Related: Greenpeace released “Guide to Greener Electronics” figures

Pulling out of the region altogether has been mentioned by some as a way to eradicate “conflict minerals” completely. The Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative [CFSI], which includes the likes of Intel, has warned that this approach would severely damage central Africa’s economy and detailed auditing is therefore preferred by all sides.

Image Credit: Flickr (enoughproject)