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June 03, 2013

Coalition of Investors Voices Support for Conflict Minerals Rule
    by Robert Kropp

Expressing their disagreement with a lawsuit filed by the US Chamber of Commerce and industry trade groups, the group states that improved disclosure and reporting on social risk factors will protect investors. -- A coalition of more than 50 sustainable investor groups representing $459 billion under management have issued a statement of support for the Security and Exchange Commission's rule mandating disclosure of the presence of conflict minerals in corporate supply chains.

Included in the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation passed in 2010, the rule was finally implemented by the SEC last August and requires that companies begin providing disclosure on the issue this year. However, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), and the Business Roundtable filed a lawsuit shortly afterward, arguing that implementation would amount to an overly burdensome cost to companies.

In November, multi-stakeholder group led by the Responsible Sourcing Network spoke out strongly in favor of the rule, urging "all stakeholders to continue the important work underway to address the critical issue of transparency in the supply chains for these minerals."

"We strongly believe these efforts are a matter of corporate social responsibility," the group stated.

The signatories to the Investor Statement include members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), signatories to the United Nations' Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), and US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment.

Noting that conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has resulted in more than five million deaths and "contributed to egregious human rights abuses," the coalition stated, "As investors and fiduciaries with a long-term view of capital appreciation that must meet the interests of multiple generations of beneficiaries, we believe it is important to protect investors through improved disclosure and reporting on social risk factors such as labor practices and human rights."

"Requiring disclosure within a company's supply chain allows investors to evaluate supply chain policies and practices, to make company-to-company comparisons, to calculate the level of risk associated with conflict mineral sourcing, and to provide assurance that companies are not engaging in destabilizing activities," the statement continues.

Boston Common Asset Management is a signatory to the Investor Statement, and Managing Director Lauren Compere was kind enough to direct me to a number of recent developments relating to conflict minerals.

A report from the Enough Project reveals that "the passage of the conflict minerals legislation within the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law and new tech industry sourcing policies have helped lead to a 65 percent drop in armed groups' profits from the trade in tin, tantalum, and tungsten" over the past two years.

However, the Investor Statement warns, "Any stay in legislation would hinder a much needed leverage point to address one of the root causes of the ongoing violence that has plagued the Congo for many years."

Notwithstanding the arguments put forth by the trade groups in their lawsuit, several companies in the information technology sector are members of the multi-stakeholder group organized by the Responsible Sourcing Network, Compere pointed out.

"Companies have emphasized that they are working to ensure compliance with the rule and that that should be a company's top priority regardless of the lawsuit," she wrote in an email.

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