Verizon, AT&T Under Pressure Over Conflict Minerals
Even before the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act mandated that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) require companies to disclose whether they use conflict minerals originating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or an adjoining country, investors had sought to raise awareness of the human rights violations associated with the issue.
As the SEC developed draft rules that were first published nearly two years ago, a coalition of investors submitted a letter detailing what it thought necessary for protecting investors while addressing the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the DRC.
The conflict “is fueled by various militias who reap their profits by controlling the country’s vast natural resources. According to the United Nations, over 50 percent of the mines in Eastern Congo are controlled by warring armed groups,” the investors stated at the time. “These DRC minerals enter a complex supply chain and subsequently make their way into products such as cell phones, laptops, and video game systems, as well as components for automobiles, airplane engines, medical devices, and other products.”
More recently, an investor coalition led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) specifically addressed the sourcing of conflict minerals in a statement (PDF) which read in part, “Comprehensive assessments of potential exposure to human rights violations throughout the entire supply chain are an essential measure of sound governance building trust and, consequently, value in the brand.”
Mark Regier, Director of Stewardship Investing for Everence Financial, was one of the more than 90 signatories to ICCR’s statement. He spoke with SocialFunds.com this week about a campaign launched by Praxis Mutual Funds to raise awareness of the issue among customers of cell phone service providers. The Praxis Mutual Funds are advised by Everence.
In a statement accompanying the launch, Regier explained, “Children and adults are forced — through rape and brute force — to work in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The reason for the violence is, sadly, to extract minerals such as tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, which are essential in the manufacturing of our most common electronic devices, such as cell phones.”
“We’re involved on multiple fronts in conflict minerals through ICCR, but we wondered how we could help people see how this issue touches their lives,” Regier told SocialFunds.com. “There are a number of campaigns working directly with the electronics manufacturers, but we’ve seen the value of bringing other aspects of the supply chain into the mix.”
“To our knowledge, nobody has worked with the major cell service providers,” he continued. “Four companies today control 80 percent of the market. We wanted to bring them into the conversation because well over a majority of Americans get their cell phones through their service providers. They’re major players in funneling people to certain types of phones. So this is an opportunity to educate our constituents on how their lives and their choices are a part of all this.”
The campaign invites customers of the four major cell phone service providers — AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon — to email their providers, expressing concern over the use of conflict minerals in their cell phones.
By Robert Kropp