Ethical sourcing of minerals has been under the spotlight for some time, following greater awareness of "conflict minerals" supply from politically unstable areas, in particular the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The term includes the trade of minerals used to finance armed groups, support corruption and money laundering, and support forced and child labour, among other issues.
Tantalum, along with tin, tungsten and gold ("3TG"), is defined as a conflict mineral under both EU and US legislation, and is covered under OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chain of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas.
Its provenance has therefore been of critical importance to the sector, given its use in far-reaching markets such as electronics, aerospace and chemical- and pharmaceutical-processing industries. As awareness of conflict minerals initially grew, the response of most of the world's tantalum processing industry was to avoid knowingly purchasing columbite-tantalite from the DRC. Some took matters a stage further and avoided purchasing from anywhere in Central Africa. From 2002 to 2010, China was the only country that reported imports from the DRC.
However, various industry-led initiatives that are being put into place have seen renewed confidence in the region, and as a result non-Chinese buyers have resumed imports from the DRC. Five years ago the USA reported no imports of tantalum concentrate from Central Africa, but in 2017 it was the single-largest source of US imports.
Important industry schemes include the ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative (iTSCi), bag-and-tag tracking and tracing mechanisms, and the Conflict-Free Smelter (CFS) Program (now the Responsible Minerals Initiative).
These initiatives and future improvements will be explored by an expert panel during the Ethical Sourcing Strategies session at Roskill's forthcoming Tantalum 2018 conference in London, UK, on 26 September 2018. Julian Lageard, Director, Government and Policy Group, EMEA, Intel Corporation and Vice Chair, Member of the Governing Board, European Partnership for Responsible Minerals (EPRM) will first discuss "Responsible Minerals Sourcing: moving beyond conflict".
Dr Elizabeth Orlando, of the US Department of State, will review "US Government policy on conflict minerals and future trends". The session will conclude with a discussion from Douglas Johnson-Poensgen, Founder & CEO, Circulor, on "A practical approach to verifying Tantalum provenance using blockchain".
Roskill's Tantalum 2018 conference will also feature leading experts from across the tantalum sector, speaking on the latest tantalum supply and market trends, a regional focus on existing and new projects in Latin America, tantalum pricing, and recycling and process innovation.