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A Conflict-Free Minerals Policy for the State of Oregon

Oregon should institute responsible electronic purchasing through the enactment of a state procurement policy to require that all state-level purchases take into consideration the presence of conflict minerals when purchasing electronics. This could be achieved through executive action or legislation, and can link to existing federal and/or international guidelines and reporting mechanisms that companies should already have implemented.

The Never Again Coalition, Oregon Coalition for Humanity, Amnesty International USA Group 48 and Team Congo PDX are all committed to supporting peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo).  We believe that transparency and stability in the mining sector in Congo will help to ensure that armed groups cannot profit from violent and illegal mining practices, which in turn stunt local communities from economic growth.  

Why Is this Change Needed?

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Consumer activism is essential to ensure that companies and industries as a whole prioritize conflict-free sourcing. State-level legislation is a powerful way to amplify individual consumer activism by institutionalizing the demand for conflict-free products. The public expects that tax dollars should be spent on procuring products produced by companies with high human rights standards. By passing a state conflict-free minerals procurement bill, Oregon would become the fourth state in the country to enact legislation that places a preference on companies that are working to source conflict-free minerals for their products. A state level bill would also strengthen the resolution passed by the City of Portland in 2015.

A City Resolution in Portland

In August 2015, the Portland City Council voted unanimously to approve Resolution 37150. The result of over two years of campaigning by local activists led by the Oregon Coalition for Humanity, and an international campaign spearheaded by the Enough Project’s Conflict-Free Cities and Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, the city’s procurement policy now requires that the makers of cellular devices and radio subscriber units to be used by the city be surveyed to determine possible connections to illegal mining and smuggling in eastern Congo by violent armed groups. The policy states that information will be used to support purchasing products made with conflict-free minerals from the Congo.[1] Last November Portland’s Chief Technology Officer approved expanding the applicability of the resolution to laptop and desktop computers, which will be implemented once the City concludes the latest revisions to their overall procurement policies.

Looking ahead to an Oregon State Conflict-Free Mineral Procurement Bill

In the 2017 Session of the Oregon Legislature, Representative Jennifer Williamson introduced House Bill 3381 – An Act relating to prohibitions on public contracting with entities that violated conflict minerals disclosure provisions of the Securities Exchange Act. The bill was referred to the House Business and Labor Committee, but did not receive a hearing.

We are looking forward to promoting the introduction of a bill in the 2019 Session. We have drafted suggestions for the bill and will be continuing to work with Rep. Williamson’s office, as well as additional House and Senate members, and the Governor’s office.

The City of Portland can only benefit from a state-wide procurement policy as it will make purchases for the City that much easier. We hope we can have your support as we work to make Oregon a “Conflict Mineral-Free” State.

1502 and the Future of Conflict Mineral Regulation

In 2010, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act became law. Section 1502 of Dodd-Frank, also know as the Conflict Minerals Act, was established to break the link between minerals and armed groups in Congo through creating a transparent supply chain for four conflict minerals (gold, along with the 3Ts – tin, tantalum, and tungsten, sometimes referred to as the 3TGs).

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The rule simply requires all publicly traded companies to report if minerals sourced from Congo can be found anywhere in their supply chain. It does not require a boycott, nor does it require sanctions.

Since 2010, we have seen the infrastructure required for companies to audit their supply chains develop and prosper. Companies such as Intel, Kemet Electronics and Signet Jewelers have remained committed to sourcing from conflict-free mines in the region.

Change doesn’t happen overnight but it is clear that the creation of transparent supply chains has made a remarkable difference in the 3T mining sector in Congo. In 2016, a study found that three out of the four conflict minerals have largely become peaceful, as 79 percent of miners at 3T mines surveyed in Congo now work in conflict-free mines.[2] This is a major change, as the UN stated in 2010 that "almost every mining deposit was controlled by a military group.[3]

Unfortunately, despite support from the tech industry, consumers, and Congolese civil society, Section 1502 is under threat by the current US Administration, and may be rescinded. Despite this, there is good news. The same disclosures that Section 1502 requires for companies using 3TG minerals in their products are the same guidelines in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High Risk Areas. The OECD is an intergovernmental organization and the guidelines it has put in place are not going away regardless of what happens to 1502. We suggest that an Oregon state procurement bill use the OECD guidelines.

Historical Background

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The Democratic Republic of Congo is probably the most mineral rich country on the planet. Sadly, this “wealth” has come at a cost. Conflict minerals have fueled and continue to help sustain armed violence in eastern Congo, linking them to the deadliest conflict globally since World War II. The International Rescue Committee found that from 1998 to 2007, 5.4 million have died as a result of armed conflict in Congo.[4] That is the most recent study, yet we know the death toll continues to climb as violence and instability continue. Gold, tin, tantalum, and tungsten are not the only sources of income to armed groups and fueling these conflicts, but they are some of the most lucrative. [5]

For decades, activists and affected communities in Congo have called attention to the links between their country’s minerals and its protracted armed conflicts. To many communities historically impacted by the violence and lawlessness surrounding Congo’s 3TG mines, the need for transparent supply chains has been clear.

The regulation of the 3TG minerals has developed as a result of pressure from end-user companies, other stakeholders and legislative action, all of which when combined, have contributed to a significant decrease in violence and exploitation in mining areas. [6]

FAQ:

How does compliance affect the Tech Industry?

A study by Elm Sustainability Partners, an independent advisory firm, found that implementation costs related to federal conflict minerals reporting requirements for businesses have been substantially lower than expected and US companies have in fact seen “tangible business benefits.” According to Elm, compliance costs are 74-85% less than the initial SEC estimate. While the SEC projected $3-4 billion for total company costs, Elm estimates costs at $600-800 million for all companies. Additionally, these costs have dropped significantly as new tools and processes have been developed which streamline compliance.[7]

What other cities and states already have conflict-free mineral procurement policies?

Massachusetts, Maryland and California, as well as 25 schools and six cities (including Portland) have implemented policies supporting conflict-free minerals trade and peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

What does Congolese civil society have to say about conflict minerals?

Janvier Murairi Bakihanaye, a Congolese civil society leader and activist working in the mining areas of North Kivu saidwhereas once there was a stand-off between militias representing different ethnic groups, local communities now live together in peace and harmony. Until recently, groups such as the Mai-Mai and Nyatura rebels and the Lafontaine group in the North Kivu province controlled a number of conflict mineral (tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold) mines. Rubaya is a case in point. The area was still under Nyatura rebel control as recently as 2013. Yet since mineral tracking systems were introduced in March 2014 as a result of the Dodd-Frank 1502 reforms, Rubaya has become an island of stability where communities live side-by-side. Before the economic boom spurred by a demand for conflict-free minerals, Rubaya had an estimated population of just 1,500. Now, less than four years on, it is home to more than 40,000 people.” [8] 

Why should you support an Oregon Conflict-Free Mineral Procurement Policy?

Consumer activism is essential to ensuring companies and industries as a whole prioritize conflict-free sourcing. State-level legislation is a powerful way to amplify individual consumer activism by institutionalizing the demand for conflict-free products. By passing at state conflict-free minerals procurement bill, Oregon would become the fourth state in the country to enact legislation that places a preference on companies that are working to source conflict-free minerals for their products.

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