Conflict Minerals Rule Poses Compliance Challenge: SEC Regulation Forces Deep Dive into Supply Chains

By Tysiac, Ken | Journal of Accountancy, April 2013 | Go to article overview

Conflict Minerals Rule Poses Compliance Challenge: SEC Regulation Forces Deep Dive into Supply Chains


Tysiac, Ken, Journal of Accountancy


To get an idea of how complex and far-reaching the new "conflict minerals rule is likely to be for manufacturers, consider Hewlett-Packard. HP estimates that about 1,000 suppliers in its chain ultimately provide a product to HP that may contain one of the conflict minerals, said Jay Celorie, who coordinates HP's conflict minerals compliance. And suppliers will be asked to do their part in the due-diligence process required by the new rule. The SEC in August enacted a rule that is part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, P.L. 111-203, and represents an unusual attempt to curtail human rights abuses in Africa through regulation of U.S. public companies.

The SEC estimates that 6,000 U.S. issuers will be directly affected by the new requirement to trace the conflict minerals (gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten) in their supply chains. The SEC has estimated initial compliance costs of $3 billion to $4 billion as end users of the four conflict minerals attempt to find out whether their raw materials originated at mines run by warlords in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or its nine adjoining neighbors (Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia). For companies required to file them, the first Conflict Minerals Reports are due to the SEC on May 31, 2014, to report on the 2013 calendar year.

As companies form cross-functional teams to track the minerals in their supply chains, trade organizations are developing efficiencies that could aid in compliance with the rule, which sets an international precedent for the rigorous way in which it demands tracing of conflict minerals. The rule was designed to choke off funding for warlords accused of committing atrocities as they run mines in the affected countries. The rule does not ban use of materials from such mines, but it requires companies to track and report the origin of the gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten through their supply chain. The goal is to create transparency that will cause companies that want to be seen as good corporate citizens to avoid obtaining raw materials from mines where human rights abuses are occurring.

MORE THAN MINIMUM COMPLIANCE

Some companies want to go beyond the minimum of complying and reporting and make a perhaps costly effort to make sure none of their materials come from mines run by warlords in the affected countries. Jim Low, CPA, a partner and conflict minerals compliance expert who leads KPMG's Financial Services Regulatory Centers of Excellence, said a company's board of directors needs to be involved in deciding whether to simply comply with the reporting requirements or to try to source conflict free. That might not be an easy decision. On one hand, committing to using only conflict-free materials can involve paying higher costs for those materials. On the other hand, a company risks falling behind with respect to reputation and goodwill if its products include conflict minerals from the affected areas while its competitors commit to a conflict-free business plan.

"You're starting to see some of the biggest and most admired companies in the U.S. putting out public statements about committing to be conflict free, which ultimately, by virtue of the interconnectivity of the supply chain, is going to force companies that are purely compliant to do something more," Low said.

Companies making public anti-conflict minerals statements include:

* Intel, whose goal for 2012 was to verify that the tantalum it uses in its microprocessors is conflict free, and whose goal for 2013 was to manufacture the world's first verified, conflict-free microprocessor.

* Philips, which has committed not to purchase materials that it knows finance armed groups in the affected countries, and has requested that its suppliers confirm that they are providing only conflict-free minerals to the company. …

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