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Conflict Minerals: EU to vote on their use

The European Parliament is set to decide whether or not technology manufacturers must be aware of where their minerals come from.

MEPs will vote on the proposal today, which looks to restrict the trade of so-called “conflict minerals,” often used to fund illegal military groups.

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The sale of tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold (3TG), in particular, funds a number of militant groups, many of which are responsible for widespread violations of human rights. The EU is proposing a new system of self-certification that will encourage all importers, smelters and refiners, to source their materials ethically.

However, the fact the new EU regulatory proposal is a voluntary process has been criticised by Green MEP Judith Sargentini.

“We need binding rules for all companies that use these minerals. Only then will we be able to guarantee European consumers that they do not contribute to conflict or human rights abuses by buying phones and tablets," she said. “We need real legislation, not a voluntary system that lets European companies off the hook. The proposal by the European Commission is mere window-dressing.”

MEP Iuliu Winkler, who is responsible for pushing the proposal through European Parliament, believes that rather than looking at the legislation in terms of voluntary versus mandatory, the real challenge is creating an “efficient, workable regulation.”

The proposal will look to promote clean supply chains, while still allowing business to trade with legitimate suppliers in conflict-affected areas. The EU will also publish an annual list of trusted smelters and refiners to improve supply chain transparency and enable responsible mineral sourcing.

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Although a step in the right direction, in reality the legislation is unlikely to lead to a completely ethically-produced smartphone in the near future. Fairphone, a company built upon the idea of producing a handset free of conflict minerals, admits that it is currently impossible for them to trace every single mineral used in the manufacturing of their devices.