By Cydney Posner
As noted by the WSJ in this article last week, notwithstanding substantial time and money invested in the process, most companies still have no idea whether the conflict minerals – tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold – in their products originated in the DRC or adjoining countries or whether they were used to finance armed groups in those countries.
By June 2, "some 6,000 U.S.-listed companies are expected to release lots of detail about their supply chains—but few conclusions—in the first reports required by law on whether their products contain 'conflict minerals.'" The article observes that some investors are "frustrated" because the ruling of the D.C. Circuit court allows companies to avoid disclosing a conclusion about their conflict-free status and are instead developing their own criteria and benchmarks.
According to the article, "the supply-chain audits have had little impact on Congo's market share. Last year, Congolese production of tantalum was estimated to have increased slightly to about 18% of the world's total, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The country's tin production is holding steady at about 2%."
SEC estimates of the cost of compliance may be far off base: "The SEC estimated that conflict-mineral reports would cost companies a total of $3 billion to $4 billion in the first year, but drop to about $200 million to $600 million in following years. Companies were expected to spend about 480 hours, on average, to complete a report, compared with about 2,000 hours for a corporate annual report. But many companies—particularly those that supply other businesses—say they have spent far more time on the law, sometimes traveling abroad to see for themselves."
The article notes that "[m]any companies say they are still years away from knowing the source of their minerals." Some companies may have "as many as 10 companies between [the ultimate downstream company] and the initial buyer of the minerals, which for now makes it almost impossible to learn where many materials are obtained. ‘The law is a very blunt instrument,' said [a manager of a conflict minerals program]. ‘We're having an effect, but it's very indirect because of how removed we are.' "