The Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), has launched an initiative on the responsible sourcing of minerals and metals - beyond the commonly targeted tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold (3TG).
A total of 19 companies have signed a declaration of support for the EEIC's Responsible Raw Materials Initiative (RRMI), which is run in partnership with the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI).
As well as electronics giants, including Apple, Accer, Cisco, Dell, Google, Microsoft, Sony and Samsung - it has also attracted support from the automotive industry and has been signed by Ford Motor Company.
EEIC vice president of social and environmental responsibility, Bob Mitchell, told Chemical Watch that the intention of the RRMI is to take a “holistic and thoughtful” approach to understanding the risks associated with the mining of metals and minerals that may end up in the products of its members.
“We need to consider more broadly where the most salient risks exist in our supply chain and address those first,” he added.
"There’s a long list of potential areas to consider - not only the metal and minerals, but also the geographic context and the type of risk - all types of environmental and human risks. From copper, aluminium, expanded areas and risks related to 3TG, to taking another look at the type of shared components in the industries we represent."
The RRMI, he said, looks at responsible sourcing in a “variety of different ways” including investing on the ground, in data solutions and also partnering with other organisations, such as the World Bank.
The initiative has recently become involved in a World Bank project - which is looking to create a global database of small-scale artisanal mines.
Mr Mitchell said he hopes the RRMI will be able to reach beyond electronics and become a cross-industry coalition, including sectors such as jewellery, toys and aerospace, which share materials in their supply chains.
The scheme's first work group meeting will take place in January. It will use the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises as well the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights, to guide its work.
Mr Mitchell said the initiative was going through a “prioritisation process” to decide which metals, minerals, geographic areas, and issues to focus on.
High on the agenda is cobalt. Earlier this year, Amnesty International released a report which said that electronic companies and electric car makers could be using components made by cobalt mined by children.
It is a key component in lithium-ion batteries which power mobile phones, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices and electric vehicles. More than half the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Lucy Graham from Amnesty International said: “The US Department of Labour had specifically listed child labour in the cobalt supply chain as a risk, but, despite this, not one of the companies named in our report, which includes some big brands, was doing even basic checks for human rights risks within their supply chain.”
She added that, in response to the report, Amnesty had been “approached by various legislators in the US asking if there’s something they can do to address the issues that we’ve raised.”
In November, the China Chamber of Commerce for Metals, Minerals and Chemicals (CCCMC) announced its Responsible Cobalt Initiative (RCI).