Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Nintendo Co., Canon Inc., Panasonic Corp. and Sharp Corp. failed over the past two years to ensure their products are free of “conflict minerals,” amid a campaign to end support for armed groups in Central Africa, a U.S. advocacy group said.
The Enough Project, based in Washington, ranked 21 technology companies on their efforts to certify mineral purchases don’t support armed groups in the region, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The trade in illicit minerals has helped finance more than 15 years of conflict in the country in which 5 million people have died.
“Despite the significant attention in the media, statements from governments and continued activism, Nintendo, Canon, Sharp and Panasonic still refuse to acknowledge or deal with the problem,” the group said in a report published yesterday.
Congo is Africa’s largest producer of tin ore and holds deposits of gold, tungsten and coltan, an ore used in electronics including laptops and mobile phones. Armed groups and some members of Congo’s army support themselves by controlling or taxing the trade in minerals, according to the United Nations.
From April 2011, any U.S.-registered company buying gold, tin ore, tungsten or coltan from Congo or any of its nine neighbors will need to certify their purchases are “DRC-conflict free,” under a U.S. law signed in July. Commissioners at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are scheduled to vote on how the law will be implemented later today.
The Enough Project said its rankings are aimed at providing consumers “with the information they need to purchase responsibly.” The group wants to pressure companies “at the top of the mineral-supply chain” to force their suppliers to stop purchasing minerals that fund conflict, it said.
Nintendo, the world’s biggest maker of video-game players, said it outsources the manufacture and assembly of all of its hardware “and therefore is not directly involved in the sourcing of raw materials that are ultimately used in our products.”
Any production partners that don’t meet the company’s corporate social responsibility guidelines are required to modify their practices, the Kyoto, Japan-based company said in an e-mailed response to questions.
Panasonic, the world’s largest maker of plasma televisions, considers a commitment not to supply materials from conflict zones as part of its basic business contracts, Joe Tsuchiya, a spokesman for the company, said in an e-mailed statement.
“We are focused on ensuring we work with ethically responsible partners, and that those partners understand and commit to the terms of our business contract, which lays out our expectations of them in relation to responsible business practices,” Tsuchiya said.
Canon, the world’s largest camera maker, may comment once the company has reviewed the Enough Project report, spokesman Richard Berger said by phone from the company’s headquarters in Tokyo today. Sharp public relations officer Miyuki Nakayama said the company may comment later when contacted today in Tokyo, Japan. Sharp is Japan’s biggest manufacturer of solar panels.
Efforts to clean up the trade in conflict minerals include tracing projects by industry groups and due-diligence guidelines created by the UN and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. A meeting of 11 Central African heads of state today in Lusaka, Zambia, will discuss new monitoring and evaluation systems for the mineral trade in the region.
Congolese President Joseph Kabila said today a government decision in September to suspend most mining in the North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema provinces was aimed at blocking access to minerals that fund conflict.
“Illegal exploitation of mineral resources has led to funding of illegal groups and that is the reason we suspended mining,” Kabila said at the summit in Lusaka.
The Enough Project ranked electronics companies based on their support for these efforts, as well as on their progress tracing and auditing their supply chains.
Hewlett-Packard Co., the world’s largest technology company by revenue, topped the rankings “for its progressive stance on legislation and certification,” Enough said.
Enough said it planned to update the rankings regularly and called for other industries that use similar minerals, including the automobile and jewelry industries, to act.