It's a problem that's not just confined to the diamond trade or a Kanye West song. Conflict Minerals are utilized in many industries and applications, including the automotive industry. The term "conflict" is applied to a mineral mined in nations where the mining is done under the condition of armed conflict and often the severe abuse of human rights. One of the most notable areas producing conflict minerals is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The minerals mined include tantalum, tin, gold and tungsten, all of which are used within the automotive industry. With more advanced vehicles in the production pipeline (particularly hybrids and full-electrics with their larger battery needs), rare-earth mineral supplies are becoming more and more crucial.
According to Ward's Auto, automakers, as well as automotive parts suppliers, have been tasked with proposing methods of regulating conflict minerals and they are facing a January 31 deadline on the discussions. If a company finds that it's utilizing materials with a source originating in a conflict region, then it's required to disclose that. Even if a company can't trace the exact origin of materials they used, they will have to disclose that it's possible that conflict materials were used.
The Automotive Industry Action Group is researching ways to insure that non-conflict materials are utilized. However, this is far more difficult than simply looking back at the origin of a specific part. One has to go all the way back to the smelter who turned the source materials into the components necessary to create the parts.
[Source: WardsAuto.com | Image: Lionel Healing/AFP/Getty]