Vitor Correia - Responsible sourcing and the Anna Karenina principle
Updated: May 31
On December 10th 2018, Dr Denis Mukwege opened his Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony Speech with the following words:
“My name is Denis Mukwege. I come from one of the richest countries on the planet. Yet the people of my country are among the poorest of the world. The troubling reality is that the abundance of our natural resources – gold, coltan, cobalt and other strategic minerals – is the root cause of war, extreme violence and abject poverty. We love nice cars, jewellery and gadgets. I have a smartphone myself. These items contain minerals found in our country. Often mined in inhuman conditions by young children, victims of intimidation and sexual violence. When you drive your electric car; when you use your smartphone or admire your jewellery, take a minute to reflect on the human cost of manufacturing these objects. As consumers, let us at least insist that these products are manufactured with respect for human dignity.
Turning a blind eye to this tragedy is being complicit.
It’s not just perpetrators of violence who are responsible for their crimes, it is also those who choose to look the other way.”
With these words, Dr Mukwege suddenly brought under the spotlights the issues that are connected to materials we use in our everyday life. Compared to many non-mineral commodities (wood, agricultural products), mineral and metal value chains are overly complex, with many tiers, and are characterised by a mixture of small (SMEs or even individuals) and larger upstream as well as downstream actors. Our global society becomes increasingly aware of the many social, legal, environmental and ethical issues connected to raw materials extraction, processing, manufacturing and trade. Thus, many important steps towards fostering responsible mineral production and supply chains have been taken by a variety of industry and multi-stakeholder initiatives. Recent research on sustainability reporting identified almost 400 reporting instruments in 64 countries. More than 20 of these instruments alone address the mineral resources sector (Figure 1). Some of them are oriented towards a particular raw material (e.g. gold, natural stones), some towards a specific part of the supply chain (e.g. mining or the upstream supply chain). Also, the standards that are applied are different, some industries focusing on the OECD Guidance, others on a broad range of sustainability requirements as referenced in standards such as the ISO 26 000.
Despite the variety of initiatives (at national, regional or sectoral level), and a great deal of acknowledgement and harmonisation between schemes, there are weak links in the mechanisms and procedures developed to counter the sourcing of minerals from conflict-affected and high-risk areas.
Stating the importance of responsible sourcing, developing reporting standards and monitoring supply chains are essential steps, but preventing the use of conflict minerals in industry supply chains is a non-technological challenge. As Dr Mukwege shrewdly sensed, the effectiveness of the efforts to curb the sourcing of conflict minerals depends on the engagement of consumers. Failing this step dooms an endeavour to failure.
Fig. 1 – Existing programmes focused on mineral sourcing issues from an industry perspective that are cooperating with the Responsible Minerals Initiative.
Source: Franken G., Kickler K. (2017): Sustainability, Schemes for Mineral Resources: A Comparative, Overview, 167 pp., Hannover.
Vitor is Secretary-General of the International Raw Materials Observatory and Past-President of the European Federation of Geologists. He founded and managed several companies working in geosciences, and he has over 25 years of experience in strategic management, innovation and organizational effectiveness. He began his career as a mining geologist, and he worked in mineral exploration, geological engineering and environmental geology in Europe, Africa and South America. Vitor holds a BSc in Geology and an MBA, both from the University of Lisbon. He is registered as a EuroGeol.
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