Companies, governments and civil society organizations are paying increased attention to “conflict minerals”—tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold from the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) whose extraction and trade contribute to the ongoing violence in the region. These minerals, which move from the DRC into global supply chains from other sources, are integral to virtually all of GE’s products. For example, tungsten is often used in lightbulbs; tantalum helps store electricity in many electronic components; tin is a component of lead-free solder; and gold is used as an electronic conductor. In this feature, we will cover GE’s efforts to understand, define and manage our supply chain to reduce the risk that the minerals used in our products are contributing to the ongoing conflict in the DRC region.
The Conflict in the DRC
The conflict in the DRC has outlived the country’s civil war, which formally ended in 2003 and itself claimed more than 5.4 million lives since it began in the late 1990s, making it the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II. Centered in the east, the current conflict involves a range of militant groups—local militias, Congolese and Rwandan rebels, and the Congolese army—that control many of the country’s mineral deposits and use them as a major source of funding for the ongoing violence in the region. Militias illegally tax the trade of these minerals at various points along the supply chain. The DRC is plagued by human rights abuses that include, according to the U.S. Department of State, slavery, debt bondage, peonage and child soldiering. In addition, the United Nation’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has called the country the “rape capital of the world.”
GE’s Approach to the Issue
As a company
GE condemns the ongoing conflict in the DRC and is putting policies and systems in place to reduce the risk that the minerals used in our products originate from conflict mines in the DRC. GE is anti-conflict, not anti-DRC, and will continue to support initiatives that enable the sourcing of conflict-free minerals from the region, when possible. GE recognizes that tracing minerals throughout our supply chain is a very complex process. We are preparing the necessary management systems to track the large amount of data that will be required to understand which of the hundreds of thousands of suppliers in our supply chains are most critical to this effort. We also recognize that long-term change requires that other critical issues such as poverty, environmental degradation and gender inequality be addressed in the region as well. Therefore, GE has committed not only to supporting conflict-free supply chains, but also to supporting local development in the DRC.
In partnership with other stakeholders
Given the complexity of the conflict minerals issue, GE knows that we will not be able to solve it alone. As a result, we are working collaboratively across industries and with multiple stakeholders to share information; support traceability efforts and supply-chain due diligence; and assess where we can contribute to greater stability and well-being in the DRC. GE has been actively participating in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) pilot program that aims to understand how companies are implementing OECD guidelines on responsible minerals sourcing from conflict-affected regions. We also participate in the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade (PPA), a roundtable, multi-stakeholder group that is working to establish verified conflict-free supply routes in the DRC. GE and the GE Foundation support the efforts of the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) in establishing a Conflict-Free Smelter (CFS) Program and the CFS Early Adopters Fund, administered by RESOLVE.
Policy and Regulatory Efforts
With growing recognition of the importance of the issue of conflict minerals has come increased expectations for how companies should address this issue and contribute to ending the violence in the DRC. In mid-2010, the United States enacted legislation (section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010) that will require companies to publicly report on the status of conflict minerals in their products, which in turn requires that they trace minerals throughout their supply chains.
We recognize that in addition to the U.S., other countries are considering legislation on conflict minerals, and new norms are being set. GE is committed to meeting all requirements related to conflict minerals globally.
Vision for the Future
GE’s vision is to contribute to a stable, prosperous and conflict-free DRC where mining contributes to local development. At GE, we will continue to support industry-wide efforts by conducting due diligence on our supply chain. We are also committed, through the GE Foundation, to strengthen our efforts to align with partners and other stakeholders to support local development and capacity building. At GE, we understand that companies need to commit to responsible supply chains while contributing to more comprehensive and collaborative approaches in order to make a meaningful difference in the area of conflict minerals. It is through our continuing commitment to these approaches that we aim to have a positive impact.
Learn more about Conflict Minerals.