How to Make Your Supply Chain Human Rights Friendly





Your cell phone could be promoting child warfare. Your laptop
could be a product of illegal trade. Your MP3 player could be linked to human
rights abuse. Some of the materials used to produce these gadgets, that is.

Apple, Dell, HP, Intel and Nokia are among the companies that
trade materials through supply chains in the eastern Democratic Republic of
Congo (DRC), which contributes to basic human rights abuse in the region, according
to a recent paper by the U.K.-based non-governmental organization Global Witness. The main raw material in this region is cassiterite, from which tin is made. Tin is a popular
material in mobile phones and electronic circuit boards.

At various points in the trading process, from the mining
site, where miners often work at gunpoint, to the transport of
materials, when
illegal taxes are implemented by rebel armies along footpaths and main
human rights abuse occurs. The revenue generated by these illegal
funds the rebel and government armies, which “commit serious human
abuses, such as killing, rape, torture, recruitment of child soldiers
and other
crimes.” Military control has been going on for about 12 years.


An ad campaign for spoofs the omnipresent Mac vs. PC commercials, showing that what these two have in common is “conflict minerals.” The ad has garnered half a million views on YouTube and raised awareness about this issue in the DRC region.

Instead of simply pointing an accusatory finger, Global
Witness presents a solution for these huge international companies. The paper, titled “DO NO HARM,” vehemently suggests the companies perform due
diligence on their entire supply chain. Companies that actively choose to source materials from these
conflict regions can then clearly show the public that they have no involvement,
either directly or indirectly, with crimes and human rights abuses associated
with trade.

Some companies use the International Tin Research Institute
to vet their trading practices. But this program does not account for
illegal taxation or abuse by the national army. Intel, meanwhile, plans to create an
industry-led “smelter-validation” scheme, but it’s still in the
planning stage.


Global Witness says that companies already employ this supply chain process in other areas of their business. They’re the ones choosing to trade in these regions. If they cannot demonstrate safe trade procedures, they should find their materials elsewhere.

According to the report, “Failure by companies to carry out supply
due diligence can damage their reputations and make them legally
In 2008, the British government upheld a complaint filed by Global
Witness against Afrimex, a British mineral company that uses resources
from the DRC. The government discovered rebel soldiers profited
from Afrimex’s supply chain.

Global Witness’s proposed measures are: 

  • A conflict minerals policy
  • Supply chain risk assessments, including on the
    ground checks on suppliers
  •  Remedial action to deal with any problems
  •  Independent third party audits of their due
    diligence measures
  •  Public reporting

How realistic is it for companies to simply stop using these suppliers? It’s not quite as simple as finding another supplier–which would most likely raise the cost of production. And companies might need to hire new staff teams to implement the due diligence process. All of which leads to higher prices for the consumer.

The question then becomes: Would you pay a premium for knowing that no one was harmed in the making of your gadget?