RSN Updates

Read our updates to learn more about RSN’s work.

Monday
Apr132015

New Report on Forced Labor in Uzbekistan Cotton Harvest Released by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights

New Report on Forced Labor in Uzbekistan Cotton Harvest Released by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights

The Government’s Riches, the People’s Burden: Human Rights Violations in Uzbekistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest, a new report from the Uzbek-German Forum For Human Rights finds that although the Uzbekistan government did not systematically mobilize children throughout the country to pick cotton, as it had in previous years, it still forced more than a million of its own citizens to pick cotton, and officials extorted individuals and businesses, including multinational companies, at a larger scale as part of the annual Uzbek cotton harvest.

New Report on Forced Labor in Uzbekistan Cotton Harvest Released by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights

Read the press release at CottonCampaign.org


Read the full report


The study of the 2014 cotton harvest also found an unprecedented degree of extortion of individuals and businesses that fueled the forced labor system, including keeping people in fields even though there is no more cotton to pick so people are still forced to pay fees for food and board, etc., and setting unattainable quotas so people had to pay to make up deficits.

“The scope of the bribery is simply astounding,” said Umida Niyazova, UGF director. “At all levels of government, officials take their cut, and Uzbek citizens, particularly public sector workers are forced to pay or pick cotton through intimidation and fear.”

Read The Government’s Riches, the People’s Burden: Human Rights Violations in Uzbekistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest at UzbekGermanForum.org


Watch video footage of Uzbekistan’s 2014 Cotton Harvest

Friday
Mar202015

The One to Beat: Apple Sets the Pace

How companies can meet – and beat – Apple’s strong start on 2015 Conflict Minerals Filings

As analysts of companies’ conflict minerals filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), we at Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN) received a welcome surprise this year: Apple filed its 2015 Conflict Minerals Report (CMR) with the SEC more than three months early! Apple has set a strong example for other companies. Even more important than being the first company out the gate for the second round of filings, Apple explicitly rejected a “Congo-Free” approach to risk management.

Rather than funnel its demand through a limited number of smelters and refiners, or avoid entirely those sourcing in Central Africa, Apple is expanding the base of smelters and refiners that have been verified as conflict-free.

-Apple Inc., 2015 Conflict Minerals Report, page 1

In this post, we evaluate Apple’s performance using two of RSN’s four measurement areas: Promoting a Conflict-Free Minerals Trade and Reporting & Transparency. In an upcoming post, RSN will offer companies a preview of our expectations in the areas of Policy & Management Systems and Assessing Exposure and Responding to Risk.

Below are 5 best practices RSN encourages companies to include in their SEC filings. Apple delivered on four, which means there’s still room to overtake the front-runner!

Promoting a Conflict-Free Minerals Trade

In its second Conflict Minerals Report (CMR) submitted in 2015, Apple details its efforts to support a genuinely “conflict-free” minerals trade in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the neighboring countries, the approach advocated by RSN and other stakeholders that supported the original Dodd-Frank 1502 legislation on conflict minerals.

1. Do not encourage an embargo of the DRC

In its sustainability report, the first US company to reach a market cap of $700 billion has a message for its peers: Don’t take the easy way out.

The simplest path to calling Apple’s products conflict-free would be to redirect our demand through a small subset of smelters that are either conflict-free verified, or aren’t sourcing from Central Africa.

But this approach would do little to influence the situation on the ground, something we care deeply about. That’s why we have been working to expand the number of verified sources in this region, so that more people can earn a good living, in better conditions.

-Apple Inc., Supplier Responsibility: Labor and Human Rights

Apple’s approach negates the argument that companies can’t or won’t trace their supply chains all the way to the smelter. Some companies appear to have explicitly requested their suppliers to avoid the DRC region, a practice which has the potential to contribute to a devastating embargo effect on artisanal miners.

2. Work with partners on the ground

In contrast, Apple is proactively supporting a clean minerals trade, which is the very purpose of this regulation. RSN praises Apple for its efforts to source responsibly from the “covered countries:” Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, DRC, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, all of which appear in Apple’s SEC disclosure as possible countries of origin for its minerals. The company is proving that product innovation and strong stock performance can go hand-in-hand with concern for the people behind its products, heeding the concerns of investors and consumers.

Apple details its efforts to engage non-governmental organizations, trade groups, and government agencies to promote change. Two examples include:

Working with Solutions for Hope to provide iPads and solar chargers to the Diamond Development Initiative to support a registration system for artisanal miners in DRC regions affected by conflict. Using a mobile mapping and survey application developed by Solutions for Hope, this registration enables artisanal miners to enjoy more formal protections and better economic opportunities.

Funding a project from the foundation Humanity United to advance Partnership Africa Canada’s work to track, certify, and export artisanal gold from eastern DRC, which includes the creation of economic incentives for local miners and traders to sell via legal sales channels.

-Apple Inc., 2015 Conflict Minerals Report, page 3

3. Measure the right outcomes

Apple measures outcomes in terms of the number of smelters or refiners that it has encouraged to go through the Conflict-Free Smelter Program audit process to become verified as “conflict-free.” The company states:

The number of conflict-free smelters and refiners in Apple’s supply chain has more than doubled in the past year.

- Apple Inc., 2015 Conflict Minerals Report, page 1

Reporting and Transparency

RSN encourages companies to use their official SEC conflict minerals filings to describe all due diligence efforts and any steps that go beyond minimum compliance, including activities undertaken to promote a conflict-free minerals trade in the DRC. Hunting through hundreds of PDF documents and websites is not a realistic task for analysts. Placing all information within the official SEC filing makes it possible for sustainable and responsible investors to aggregate and analyze company performance on addressing the risks and opportunities presented by conflict minerals.

4. List all known countries of origin and provide a detailed list of smelters or refiners.

Apple discloses 80 countries as possible points of origin for its four conflict minerals: tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. In addition it has identified over 200 smelters and refiners and includes all of their country locations and the minerals processed at each location.

5. Link to a dedicated conflict mineral or supply chain responsibility page.

Apple links to its general investor page, rather than to the page of its website that deals with conflict minerals in more depth. RSN is looking for a link directly to a publicly accessible page devoted to conflict minerals where stakeholders can easily locate the company’s current conflict minerals policy, the full text of the conflict minerals filing, and updates on ongoing due diligence efforts between annual filings.

To find additional best practices for conflict minerals filings, read RSN’s Expectations Shortlist: Company Conflict Mineral Reporting and Activities. Also, be on the lookout in April for an upcoming pilot analysis of companies’ 2014 filings to the SEC. The pilot analysis together with the Expectations Shortlist offers guidance to companies and insights to investors of how companies are performing to address a material human rights risk and fulfilling on the first mandated filing to the SEC on a social issue.

Wednesday
Jan282015

Protests Across DRC Signal Opposition to Kabila’s Continued Rule

Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the past 14 years, is facing calls to not delay elections amid protests and social unrest.

Citizens took to the streets last week in cities throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in response to proposed changes to the country’s electoral law that would lead to an unconstitutional extension of President Joseph Kabila’s presidency. The protests mark a continuation of the political and social unrest in the African state that often manifests itself surrounding the trade of 3TG conflict minerals—tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold.

Joseph Kabila has been president of the country for the past 14 years, with his final term set to end in 2016 with the election of his successor. However, a change recently introduced to the country’s electoral laws by Kabila himself would require a countrywide census to be completed before the next election to reflect updated voter registration lists. Opponents allege that it is simply a last-ditch attempt to sustain his presidency past his final term deadline since census proceedings in the country the size of Western Europe would take years.

In response to the proposed electoral changes early last week, opposition leaders urged citizens to mobilize and protest the suggested amendments. Citizens gathered in protests all around the country for four days to express their dissent for the changes. According to The Guardian, students at Kinshasa University shouted “Kabila get out” in the face of police forces standing by.

According to coverage from Human Rights Watch, the protests quickly turned violent as the government security forces turned to “unlawful and excessive force” in reaction to the protests. Human Rights Watch confirmed 36 people dead in Kinshasa and an additional four killed in protests in Goma. Of these, the campaign group asserts that at least 21 people were fatally shot by security forces. Opposition leaders were also arrested arbitrarily while the government shut down all Internet and text message communication on January 20 only partially restoring it two days later.

Following multiple days of protest and unrest, the Senate passed an amended version of the law reiterating that the Constitution’s electoral timeframe would not be disrupted and that the election would not be reliant on census completion.

These mass demonstrations signal popular opposition to Kabila’s presidency and present evidence to suggest that Kabila’s powerbase may be eroding. It is critically important that the 2016 elections are conducted in accordance with the country’s espoused commitment to democracy. As a global powerhouse of highly valued minerals (including the 3TG conflict minerals), it is essential that the minerals trade in Eastern DRC is overseen and managed by a head of state who is dedicated, transparent, and accountable. An empowered population with trust in the electoral system through free and fair elections is critical to reaching a conflict-free DRC. A conflict-free minerals trade is dependent on the legitimized and trusted government necessary to achieve a conflict-free DRC.

Through supply chain innovations in conflict-free sourcing, the trade in conflict minerals and the overall security situation in the East is finally transforming after years of mineral-fuelled rebel conflict. The current unrest is confirmation of the need for conflict-free supply chains, and proof that more than ever these initiatives must be supported and advanced by the country’s next executive in order to continue the progress made to end the deadly conflict in the Eastern DRC.

Friday
Jan232015

Response to Responsible-Investor Article Highlighting the Positive Impact of 1502 on Conflict Minerals

RSN Director Patricia Jurewicz, along with sustainable and responsible investors from Boston Common, Calvert, and Trillium penned an op-ed for Responsible-Investor magazine. In it they highlight the need to educate readers about the efficacy of the Dodd-Frank 1502 rule despite the measure of uncertainty created by a legal challenge to the rule.

The op-ed addresses how companies are currently complying with the law by implementing due diligence and reporting to the SEC, the precedent that the legislation is setting for mandatory disclosures related to human rights concerns, and the positive impact the law is having in the DRC and the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa.  

The full response is freely accessible on the Responsible-Investor website.

Thursday
Jan152015

2015 Conflict-Free Resolutions: Perspectives on the Year Ahead

New Year’s is a time to make resolutions to commit to actions that improve the world around us. Intel spoke with industry leaders, student groups, and other advocates to see what they’re planning to do in 2015 to keep consumer products conflict-free. Patricia Jurewicz, Director of Responsible Sourcing Network, offers her resolutions to help rid global supply chains of conflict minerals.

  1. I resolve to investigate and report on the quality of companies’ conflict minerals disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in promoting transparency and accountability in supply chains.
  2. I will encourage companies beyond the electronics industry to join the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI) and the Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG), and support the Audit Committee of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in establishing credible mine audit systems and verifying an increased amount of conflict-free mines.

Read the full article with conflict-free resolutions from other advocates and industry leaders >>>