Sustainable Procurement Tools


Conflict minerals are those that are derived from areas where they are obtained under duress and traded to fund armed groups.

While this has been heavily associated with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the African Great Lakes region, it potentially affects other countries and regions, including Myanmar and Colombia.

Mines that are controlled by armed groups may have harsh conditions with human rights abuses commonplace, while the funding of conflict from such minerals has caused considerable death and destruction; despite recent improvements conflict minerals remain.

Conflict minerals can include (this is not a comprehensive list):

  • tungsten: used in metal wires, electrodes, lighting contacts, electrical and electronic heating as well as in steel alloys
  • gold: in jewellery, watches, semi-conductors, electronics manufacturing (e.g. mobile phones, laptops, desktops, tablets, GPS systems), plating on metal components, aerospace film and lubricant
  • tin: alloys, tin plating and solder for circuit boards, engine parts, packaging, chemical compounds (for example, fire proofing cloth, pesticides, wood preservatives)
  • tantalum: tantalum capacitors for electronics, sutures, cranial and other repair plates, hearing aids, pacemakers, laptops, mobile phones, GPS systems, aircraft and missiles

Scotland is committed to economic, social and human rights, and as part of the UK is signed up to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) core conventions. The eight fundamental principles of which are:

  1. Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) 
  2. Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98)
  3. Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)
  4. Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105) 
  5. Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138)
  6. Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182)
  7. Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100)
  8. Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111)

Scotland, as part of the UK, has also signed up to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The ICESCR requires state parties to protect, respect and fulfil fundamental economic, social and cultural human rights, which include rights to work, health, and an adequate standard of living (including food and housing).

The right to work encompasses fair work and decent working conditions.

Scotland's National Action Plan for Human Rights (SNAP) has a vision for Scotland where everyone lives with human dignity.

It was developed to give effect to the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). The UNGPs are a set of guidelines for states and companies to prevent, address and remedy human rights abuses committed in business operations.

Launched in December 2013, responsibility for developing the plan was shared by public bodies, voluntary organisations and individuals from all over Scotland. 

Scotland was one of the first counties in the world to sign up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many of these goals align with Scotland’s National Performance Framework and SNAP. Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all, involves the eradication of forced labour, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labour.

Conflict minerals legislation

The US introduced the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010 which set requirements for companies whose products incorporate the 3TGs (tantalum, tungsten, tin, plus gold) from DRC and neighbours.

This focuses on determining the applicability, conducting country of origin enquiry, a due diligence process, determining status and filing a report.

The OECD published a framework called Due Diligence for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High Risk Areas and this is referenced in the Dodd-Frank Act.

The Dodd-Frank Act, while US legislation, has driven changes within some major manufacturers, for example, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Apple and others.

They have tended to focus on establishing organisational policy on conflict minerals, setting goals, surveying suppliers, identifying smelters used, referencing smelters to approved lists, auditing and training.

The Responsible Minerals Initiative (RMI), formerly the Conflict Free Smelter Programme uses third-party audits to identify smelters and refiners that have systems in place to provide assurance of conflict-free sourcing. 

On 3 April 2017, the EU adopted the conflict minerals regulation aimed at stopping the financing of armed groups through trade in conflict minerals.

The regulation obliges EU companies to source their imports of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold responsibly and to ensure that their supply chains do not contribute to funding armed conflict.

These 'due diligence' rules will become binding from 1 January 2021, though importers are encouraged to apply them as soon as possible.

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