She added that buyers should also widen their scope and
consider conflict implications in regions such as South
"Taking an 'Africa-free’ position rather than a
responsible sourcing stance is not only morally
questionable…it’s also a short-sighted
business decision," Pickles said.
Taking this "Africa-free" approach, in other words, would not
necessarily guarantee material was conflict free, in the same
way that buying from Africa would not automatically result in
the funding of conflict.
"The EU proposal introduced last week is not restricted to one
area. It highlights that companies buying material from any
high-risk zone – places like Colombia or Afghanistan
– should also be checking their supply chains,"
Sources have widely agreed, meanwhile, that the reason at least
some buyers of downstream tungsten products have requested
their goods contain no African tungsten is that they fear the
complexity of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
reporting requirements under the Dodd-Frank act.
"This isn’t about boycotting an area in order to
avoid reporting on your business practices –
it’s about sourcing responsibly from wherever
you’re buying from in the world," Pickles said.
"Since 2010, international guidance, developed by the OECD, has
been available for companies, including those in the tungsten
industry, to ensure that the minerals they trade or use have
not fuelled war in places like [the Democratic Republic of
Congo]," she added.
For a number of years, research carried out by Global Witness
has shown the connection between the minerals trade and the
funding of armed conflict in the eastern DRC, Pickles said.
It was this link that led to the launch of schemes such as the
International Tin Research Institute’s (ITRI)
traceability and supply chain initiative (iTSCi).
In the years following the passage of section 1502 of the
Dodd-Frank act, which applies to conflict minerals, industry
associations and companies began to reassess their supply
chains and also began to put OECD due diligence guidance into
practice, either independently or through schemes like iTSCi,
This attention to due diligence has not been enough to satisfy
some buyers of tungsten, however, as they continue to reject
material from Africa, while at the same time, traceability
schemes have been successful in supporting the tin and tantalum
Closed pipe supply
"In the eastern DRC, closed-pipe supply chains,
whereby each step of the supply chain is known and controlled,
have emerged for tin," Pickles said.
"Schemes like these can help companies discharge their due
diligence responsibilities – although
it’s important to remember that ultimately each
company in the supply chain is responsible for its own checks,"
Technology company Motorola has also expanded its Solutions for
Hope scheme, which uses a "closed-pipe" model to allow
conflict-free tantalum to be used in the company’s
products, to the North Kivu province in the DRC.
The Solutions for Hope scheme does for tantalum what miners in
Africa have been hoping could be done for tungsten, but has not
yet been achieved.
According to Motorola, the scheme makes sure minerals that fund
conflict do not enter the supply chain and also "creates
economic benefits for artisanal miners and their families".
It therefore supports the policies of the USA and the EU by
avoiding the creation of a "de facto, country-wide embargo on
the DRC" that could "impoverish non-conflict areas", Motorola
Sources have suggested, however, that there is a de
ban on African tungsten, irrespective of whether it
comes from a conflict zone, as there is a lack of education among buyers of
, combined with the fact that only a small
percentage of the world’s supply comes from
In Central African countries such as Rwanda, however, the
tungsten industry forms a large part of the economy and
provides high levels of local employment, which have been threatened
by this de
ban, according to the Rwandan minister of state for
"End-user firms buying tungsten can and should apply the same
due diligence framework to mineral purchases from the Great
Lakes region – and any other conflict-affected and
high-risk areas where they source," Pickles said.
Assuming they do so, in other words, it should be possible to
buy traceable conflict-free tungsten from Africa.