Conflict Minerals: Yet Another Supply Chain Challenge

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1 Conflict Minerals: Yet Another Supply Chain Challenge As lawmakers target conflict minerals, companies could face significant costs to comply. The focus is on four metals extracted from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo and adjoining countries. Eight Power Moves 1

2 Manufacturers will face significant raw material cost pressures as lawmakers target conflict minerals. The legislators' current focus is on the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and adjoining countries. In the recent past, the supply of and demand for raw materials forced manufacturers to cope with radical market-price fluctuations for commodities such as iron ore and steel; as they formulated successful market strategies, the impact of commodity price spikes became manageable. More recently, procurement professionals have been tested by the scarcity of rare earth metals such as scandium, yttrium, and cer. China, which has the world's largest known deposits of these metals, has exacerbated the challenge by enacting stringent export caps. Again, manufacturers adjusted their strategies and are managing their predicament. Now on the horizon is a new federal regulation to require companies that make products using certain minerals to disclose whether their supply comes from or near the Democratic Republic of Congo, where mining revenue has funded violent military groups. When this regulation passes, companies with global supply chains will face the daunting task of adapting once again. Recent Developments in U.S. Legislation Many institutions including the United Nations, the U.S. Department of State, the European Union (EU), and numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have closely studied the issue of conflict minerals and the militia groups in the DRC region that have taken over their mining and sale. The peak of international focus came with the inclusion of Section 1502 into the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a federal statute signed into law on July 21, Subsequently, the U.S. Congress charged the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with its implementation. On December 23, 2010, the SEC proposed a rule that would, if adopted, require publicly traded companies to conduct certified audits, submit an annual report as part of their disclosure requirements, and disclose that information online, thus incurring enormous compliance costs. Companies using certain minerals will have to disclose whether their supply comes from or near the DRC. Regulators are now struggling to create a rule for companies that use conflict minerals while also avoiding a compliance nightmare for manufacturers with complex supply chains. While the SEC has postponed the deadline several times, a final ruling seems imminent. Many believe the regulation will be costly and difficult to put into practice. Although most companies affected support the ultimate goal of the pending regulation, many are calling for phase-in periods and allowances for the use of smaller amounts of the minerals without disclosure. In its proposed rule, the SEC defines four minerals as conflict minerals cassiterite, the chief ore to produce tin; columbite-tantalite, the ore from which tantalum is extracted; wolframite, an important source of tungsten; and gold. The rule would require companies to disclose their use of conflict minerals that originated in the DRC or an adjoining country. The term adjoining country is defined as a country that shares an internationally recognized border with the DRC, 2

3 which includes Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Angola, Congo Republic, and Central Africa Republic. In 2009, the DRC countries made up 32 percent of global tantalum mine production, 4 percent of global tin mine production, and 1 percent of both tungsten and gold mine production (see figure 1). Applicability: A Trickle-Down Effect Section 1502 is applicable to U.S. domestic and foreign issuers, or companies that are required to report to the SEC. These entities are directly affected if conflict minerals are necessary to the functionality or production of a product manufactured or contracted to be manufactured. The SEC conservatively estimates that this ruling will affect about 1,200 issuers. However, an indirect effect resonates throughout the supply chain as companies ask their suppliers to look into their sourcing practices for conflict minerals. Current estimates indicate 700,000 to 900,000 businesses would be subject to some degree of supply chain traceability effort. Compliance costs would certainly be high. Although the SEC pinpoints implementation costs at around $70 million, other estimates predict total compliance costs to be somewhere between $5 billion and $7 billion for issuers and their associated suppliers. In one way or another, a wide range of industries use conflict minerals from automotive and aerospace to jewelry and leisure (see figure 2 on page 4). The picture becomes even more complex at the product level. Although found in very small quantities, conflict minerals can be used in products as diverse as cell phones, laptops, canned food, automobiles, golf clubs, and wedding rings. Figure 1 Democratic Republic of Congo and adjoining countries Global production Ta Tantalite (Columbite) 32.4% Sn Tin (Cassiterite) 4.0% Sudan Au W Gold Tungsten (Wolframite) 0.7% 1.4% Central Africa Republic Congo Republic Democratic Republic of Congo Tanzania Uganda Rwanda Burundi Angola Zambia Source: A.T. Kearney analysis 3

4 Figure 2 A wide range of industries use conflict minerals Aerospace Agriculture Automotive Chemical Communications Consumer electronics Electronic applications and equipment Food Healthcare Industrial applications Industrial equipment and tools Jewelry Leisure goods Ta Tantalite (Columbite) Sn Tin (Cassiterite) Au Gold W Tungsten (Wolframite) Source: A.T. Kearney analysis A Complex and Twisted Supply Chain The complexity of conflict minerals becomes apparent when looking at a communications company as an example. The company would need to sift through 35 manufacturers, 60 to 80 parts suppliers, more than 1,000 commodity parts suppliers, and an unknown number of distributors to get to all of its sources. Because only very small quantities of conflict minerals are typically integrated into any given product, traceability is even more difficult. For example, a 2 kilogram (4.5 pound) laptop contains 10 grams of tin, 0.6 grams of tantalum, 0.3 grams of gold, and grams of tungsten. Smelters, where metals of diverse origins come together to be processed, have been identified as the crucial traceability point. Fortunately, the number of smelters within the overall supply network is still manageable (see figure 3). Figure 3 Smelters are the critical point of supply chain traceability Mine Trading house Smelter Refiner Manufacturer Customer Critical point for supply chain traceability Number of players Source: A.T. Kearney analysis 4

5 Electronics and automotive companies are on the forefront of this issue and are trying to anticipate the exact configuration of conflict minerals regulation. They have been implementing supply chain traceability systems such as conflict-free smelter validation programs, risk assessment programs, and contractual requirements. Engaging downstream suppliers both voluntarily and through contractual measures is essential to supply chain transparency. Supply Chain Traceability in Other Industries Similar cases in other industries reveal how best to deal with the conflict minerals supply chain. Food and hazardous goods industries are no strangers to traceability, which has also found its way into clothing and forestry industries as environmental sustainability has become increasingly important to consumers and businesses alike. In the early 2000s, the food industry enacted supply chain traceability systems in the wake of several food safety and health crises. Chemical companies and supermarket chains implemented traceability systems that allow consumers to trace the origins of particular products through the entire supply chain using their smart phones. Many food companies are using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track food from its point of origin to its retail outlet. 1 An RFID track-and-trace system can be used not only to track the location of food as it moves through the supply chain from the grower to the grocer, but also to provide vital information about environmental fluctuations in temperature, humidity, and light. The struggle is to create a rule for companies that use conflict materials while avoiding a compliance nightmare for manufacturers with complex supply chains. The supply chain for hazardous goods mandates an even more sophisticated system because of the danger to public health and safety. This technology enables real-time tracking on the product level, and parameters for humidity and temperature can be checked while the materials are en route. For conflict minerals, these systems allow for boundary alerts that prevent the materials from crossing certain geographical boundaries. Even without explicit regulatory provisions, some businesses have introduced supply chain tracking systems to promote their products sustainability and eco-friendliness. A New Zealandbased company and maker of merino clothing engages its customers by allowing them to see the source of its products online, thus fostering consumer involvement. Lessons from the Scarcity of Rare Earth Metals The shortage of rare earth metals last year prompted suppliers to adapt their strategies. Some of the lessons learned can serve as forward-looking guidelines for avoiding conflict minerals. 1 The RFID uses microchip tags that respond to radio waves. Unlike traditional barcodes, RFID tags, also called smart labels, do not require a line of sight to relay information. Instead, information is accessed by simply placing the tag within range of an RFID radio transmitter. 5

6 Suppliers have tried to reduce demand by shifting to alternative technology, new manufacturing techniques, or other materials. This has made companies less dependent and less vulnerable. They have also intensified recycling of these materials, a strategy that is of particular interest for conflict minerals because recycled materials lack the connection to DRC violence. Finally, severe Chinese restrictions that have limited the export of rare earth metals since 2009 have made the situation worse. Suppliers reacted by investing in extraction capabilities outside of China, thus becoming less dependent on volatile Chinese export policies. Shifting demand and involvement in other regions where conflict minerals are also mined is another possible solution, especially for gold, tin, and tungsten, for which DRC production constitutes less than 5 percent of the global volume. A Process for Supply Chain Traceability As supply chain transparency becomes a legal requirement, a structured three-pronged approach can help companies not only adapt to the immediate affect of regulatory requirements, but also better understand the longer-term social and environmental affects of the products they make as well as the impact on competitive advantage (see figure 4). Our approach takes place in three phases: Phase 1. Create transparency Phase 2. Develop a traceability strategy Phase 3. Comply with regulations Create transparency. Companies must understand the regulatory and compliance requirements that arise within a network of associated suppliers. In other words, what information is required by associated suppliers or regulatory provisions? Next, an internal identification of Figure 4 Three phases in supply chain traceability Create transparency Develop a traceability strategy Comply with regulations Evaluate degree of compliance requirements Strengthen supply chain traceability systems Identify conflict-free sources and establish conflict-free supplier base Assess risk of conflict mineral involvement on a product level Establish a conflict-free smelter validation program Report supply due diligence (and publish online) Assess risk of conflict mineral involvement in the supply chain Evaluate possible conflict-free manufacturing techniques and technology Carry out independent thirdparty audit Design and implement a comprehensive risk management program Source: A.T. Kearney analysis 6

7 the risks associated with conflict minerals must be followed by identifying those same risks downstream in the supply chain so that a company can fathom the potential scope of the issue. Develop a traceability strategy. Strategies must be developed and implemented for supply chain traceability systems and validated conflict-free smelters. The breadth and depth of these programs depend on the risks identified in Phase 1. Vertical integration of systems along such a supply chain is tricky but potentially necessary. Compatibility is crucial in this roll-out phase. Industry associations including the Association Connecting Electronics Industries (IPC) have taken a lead in coordinating it. This specifically relates to reconciling different IT systems and proposing unified standards. At the same time, companies should identify and evaluate potential alternative manufacturing techniques and technology that would make them less dependent on conflict materials. Weighing all possible options, a comprehensive strategy should be designed and implemented to adequately respond to the risks identified in Phase 1. Comply with regulations. In the third and final phase, the transition to a conflict-free supplier base is initiated. This could mean making use of recycled materials or shifting demand to other conflict-free sources. Finally, compliance requirements regarding due diligence and disclosure are followed according to the assessment of Phase 1. This can range from mere information requirements and associated suppliers all the way to conducting a full audit with all disclosure requirements. Outlook: Adapting, Once Again The SEC has not yet issued a final rule, but a decision is imminent. Therefore, it is of utmost importance for supply chain managers to prepare accordingly. Thorough preparation and anticipation will have an immediate impact on efficiency. The general direction of the issue is manifested in the SEC s proposed rule from Once implemented in the United States, a global roll out is likely as institutions such as the EU follow suit. The potential challenges for supply chain traceability include complexity, small quantities, and lack of transparency, as outlined above. Given the pressure of NGOs and other organizations, corporate social responsibility and consumer awareness are additional challenges, which is why some companies have made conflict minerals a priority. Meeting all of these challenges will be important for, as other industries have shown, supply chain traceability is here to stay and will be instrumental in helping companies capture an enduring growth advantage. Authors Christian Schuh, partner, Vienna Michael Strohmer, principal, Vienna The authors wish to thank Nino Mori for his valuable help in writing this paper. 7

8 A.T. Kearney is a global team of forward-thinking, collaborative partners that delivers immediate, meaningful results and long-term transformative advantage to clients. Since 1926, we have been trusted advisors on CEO-agenda issues to the world s leading organizations across all major industries and sectors. A.T. Kearney s offices are located in major business centers in 39 countries. Americas Atlanta Calgary Chicago Dallas Detroit Houston Mexico City New York San Francisco São Paulo Toronto Washington, D.C. Europe Amsterdam Berlin Brussels Bucharest Budapest Copenhagen Düsseldorf Frankfurt Helsinki Istanbul Kiev Lisbon Ljubljana London Madrid Milan Moscow Munich Oslo Paris Prague Rome Stockholm Stuttgart Vienna Warsaw Zurich Asia Pacific Bangkok Beijing Hong Kong Jakarta Kuala Lumpur Melbourne Mumbai New Delhi Seoul Shanghai Singapore Sydney Tokyo Middle East and Africa Abu Dhabi Dubai Johannesburg Manama Riyadh For more information, permission to reprint or translate this work, and all other correspondence, please A.T. Kearney Korea LLC is a separate and independent legal entity operating under the A.T. Kearney name in Korea. 2012, A.T. Kearney, Inc. All rights reserved. The signature of our namesake and founder, Andrew Thomas Kearney, on the cover of this document represents our pledge to live the values he instilled in our firm and uphold his commitment to ensuring essential rightness in all that we do.

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