Category Archives: risk management

Elm to be Panelist at SEC Public Roundtable on Conflict Minerals Rule

We are pleased to announce that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has selected Lawrence Heim of Elm’s Atlanta office to sit on the expert panel for Panel 2 of their previously announced public roundtable on the proposed conflict minerals regulation on October 18.

Panel 2 will focus on matters the implementation of the rule and conducting related audits, while Panel 1 will review the scope and definitions of the law/rule, along with tracking the supply chain.

The agenda and panelists for the roundtable have been publicly released.

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Guest Viewpoint: EICC-GeSI Conflict Minerals Workshop in Brussels

Elm welcomes Michele Bruelhart as a guest blogger.  Michele is the Global Traceability Manager with UL-STR in Burundi and attended the EICC-GeSI Workshop held in Brussels recently.  She provided Elm with her perspective on the meeting, and regional progress on conflict minerals programs/infrastructure.

 

The challenges surrounding supply chain traceability of so called “conflict minerals” continue to be discussed in numerous fora in Europe and the US. Starting with roundtable consultations organized by the World Gold Council, the EICC-GeSI Group and the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA) held their conferences last week in Brussels which will be followed by the launch of a Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade in October and lastly a meeting of the OECD hosted working group on the implementation of the Due Diligence Guidance in November.

Broadly speaking, participants of these meetings appear divided into two groups: those contributing to discussions on the 3Ts (tin, tantalum and tungsten) and those trying to address the issues around gold. For the former, the EICC-GeSI Workshop provided an overview on the latest progress (or lack thereof) since their previous workshop in June of this year. Some of the main points from Brussels are summarized below:

  • The EICC-GeSI reporting template for the downstream supply chain is publicly available and has been piloted by a number of companies. While the tool itself was found to be helpful, it does not address the main challenge faced by end-user companies, which are (1) how to reduce the complexity and number of suppliers standing between the end product and the smelter in their supply chains and (2) how to get responses from supplier, investing a reasonable amount of time and resources.
  • The hours required to obtain a completed reporting template from all suppliers seem disproportionate to the information sought. Furthermore, the data provided by suppliers is not validated or verified externally. Lastly, the tool merely allows companies to gather information “backwards” for a finished product, rather than “forwards” (i.e., trying to prevent conflict minerals from entering the supply chain).  By the time all the information is collected and compiled, the product will most likely have been sold already, whether smelters used for its production were “conflict-free” or not. Given these limitations, it is not clear if the template truly responds to the needs of companies that are required to report under Section 1502 of the Dodd Frank Act. [Ed. note – this process/timing gap may also create liabilities in the context of representations and warranties made about the nature or status of the material, which could be proven incorrect once all relevant information is available].
  • Investing time and resources to gather information from suppliers regarding the smelters used in a company’s supply chain makes sense only if there is a sizeable list of conflict-free smelters that have been approved in the framework of the Conflict Free Smelter Program. So far, this list comprises six tantalum smelters. Assessment protocols for the other metals have been published this summer, though to date no smelters for tin and tungsten or refineries for gold have been approved as “conflict-free”. Despite the progress made in this program and the EICC-GeSI’s repeated assurances that it remains possible for smelters to source from the African Great Lakes region, the requirements defined for smelters to continue purchasing minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or its neighbors provide a significant disincentive to do so. The assessment protocols list a number of conditions that must be fulfilled for minerals from the Great Lakes region. Among those figure full traceability for the shipment – something that has not been achieved yet for three of the DRC’s four affected provinces – and the implementation of the OECD Due Diligence Guidance. On the latter, it remains to be seen how this criteria should be implemented as the OECD is stressing that its Guidance should be understood as a process over time, whereas a mineral purchase is a punctual transaction. [Ed. note:  As Elm previously reported, OECD has softened its stance on its Guidance.  In addition, EICC CFS audits may not be completed in time for many companies to use them for purposes of fiscal year 2012 SEC compliance].
  • In the region itself, progress has been quite significant. The DRC Government is about to make the implementation of the OECD Guidance a requirement for companies bearing administrative sanction, mine site inspections have taken place at over 30 mine sites in North Kivu and the Government expects to be ready to issue regional certificates for its minerals within the ICGLR framework by the end of 2011. ITRI’s tag-and-bag scheme is targeting 75% of the 3Ts from Katanga province to be tagged by the end of this year and the German federal institute BGR has validated 35 mines against its Certified Trading Chains Standard.

Nevertheless, some important issues were not addressed during the Brussels workshop:

  • First and foremost, it remains unclear if the Congolese Government has the financial and human capacity to enforce the various rules and regulations that were passed over the last couple of months. In particular as the country is preparing for Presidential elections in November, no concrete plans for the enforcement of recently taken measures were presented, nor does the Government appear to take a clear leadership role in coordinating the various efforts on the ground.
  • For the in-region tracing or certification schemes, the monitoring and evaluation process of participating companies is not fully transparent. In the case of the mine visits of the DRC Government, no information is provided on the standards applied to flag a specific mine green, orange or black or the qualifications of the mine inspectors. For BGR’s and ITRI’s certification and traceability schemes, the boundaries between baseline assessments, preparation of participating companies, third party verification and remediation are not clearly defined. The absence of clearly defined tasks may lead to potential conflicts of interest where verifiers could be consulting and auditing the same companies.
  • The presentation of Gregory Mthembu-Salter of the United Nations Group of Experts (UN GoE) on the Democratic Republic of Congo painted a rather grim picture of the likelihood to see any of the above schemes being implemented in the Kivu provinces. The security situation in the Kivus renders the implementation of any traceability scheme difficult and the level of due diligence required from buyers in ensuring their purchases do not benefit armed groups appears to be prohibitively high.
  • The highly unique aspects of the gold supply chain and its traceability remain unresolved.  There are growing doubts that a viable framework applicable to gold will be available in the near future.

Despite these activities along the entire mineral supply chain there remains much to be done to establish credible systems of assurance in the African Great Lakes region that satisfy the needs of end user companies obliged to report on the origin of their raw materials.

EHS Journal Article on Sustainability, Financial Valuation

Recently, Elm posted a piece discussing comments from Kevin Parker, the CEO of Deutsche Asset Management, an investment firm with three-fourths of US$1 trillion under management.

We expanded that original post for EHS Journal, who just published it.  The expanded version dives deeper into trends in the past decade supporting Parker’s assessment of why capital markets are bullish on carbon-intensive investment opportunities even in light of this era of sustainability.

View the article in its entirety here.

Demo Version of Conflict Minerals Audit, Program Development Tool Now Available

Elm has released a demonstration version of its pioneering Self-Implemented Conflict Minerals Audit Preparation© tool, or SICMAP℠.  The demo contains abridged content, but retains the functionality, pragmatic approach and simplicity of the full version.

“While we originally designed SICMAP℠ to assist companies in preparing for audits, we have seen an unexpected interest in use of the tool as a conflict minerals program development guide/framework”, said Lawrence Heim, Elm’s conflict minerals services leader.  “The demo version was made available because of the increased demand and interest.”

To request a copy of the demo version, contact Lawrence Heim at lheim@elmgroup.com.

Is Demand for “Absolute Certainty” Fueling Failure of US Conflict Minerals Law, DRC?

Recent reports in the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor (CSM) about the impact of Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) sparked both controversy and debate in the media and in on-line conversations.  The CSM article contains an interview with Eric Kajemba who, according to the CSM, is founder/director of Observatoire Gouvernance et Paix (OGP), an NGO based in Bukavu, and has worked in the minerals trade.  Mr. Kajemba provided insight into DRC’s mining sector in the twelve months since the law’s passage.  Among his more interesting quotes:

… It is true that there is no official embargo on the Congo today, and that the Dodd-Frank law did not call for such an embargo. But the truth is that as soon as the Congolese export ban was lifted, the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) [an electronics industry body] in the United States imposed a de facto embargo. Traders here only had time to sell their stock and then everything stopped again! Now most of the minerals seem to leak out through smuggling.

… There are a lot of initiatives that have been proposed, but this has added to the confusion. We need one approach. The centres de négoce and tagging are not enough. Tagging is good – but you can end up tagging dirty minerals, as well! There is a whole bunch of work to do. Let’s not confine ourselves to tagging.

 ENOUGH [the US based activist organization most visible/vocal on conflict minerals issues] has hardened its tone. They only show the negative side of artisanal mining here. This one-sidedness of their advocacy has had negative side-effects. No, we know we can’t stop Dodd-Frank, but we need to be aware of these negative consequences – we are not very happy with Global Witness or ENOUGH, but we feel they are very influential, and we are ready to work with them.

Based on our experiences in conflict minerals auditing, we recognize these points, but from a different perspective:  Approaching compliance with the US conflict minerals law as a “cause” (demanding immediate resolution with absolute certainty) is perhaps the most direct reason for the de facto US embargo on DRC sourced minerals, and the breakdown of an economy supporting legitimate sources. 

Why?  The issue’s disturbing basis (systemic human rights atrocities), combined with media coverage and well managed NGO campaigns, drive emotionally-charged demands for zero tolerance and absolute certainty in traceability information and processes.  No such solution exists, and attempts to force-fit a handful of inadequately planned ideas are proving unsuccessful and problematic.  The easiest (and theoretically most certain) solution is for companies to simply stop buying any materials sourced from Central Africa, collapsing the sole legitimate economic support for those most needing it.  This result is a case study in perverse consequences.

Our long-standing position is that the implementation of Dodd-Frank’s conflict minerals mandate should be based on “reasonable assurance” rather than “absolute certainty” in expectations, management processes and auditing.   It is worth pointing out that the language of the law itself mirrors this, as it requires “efforts to determine the mine or location of origin with the greatest possible specificity.” 

Removing expectations of – and pressures related to – achieving perfection will allow pragmatic and compliant solutions to develop quickly, and reduce risks for companies seeking to support legitimate DRC sourced materials helping those in need.

An Inconvenient Reality For Environmental/Sustainability Professionals?

For years, those of us in the environmental/sustainability profession have sought credible ways and metrics for quantifying the economic value of our efforts, activities and programs.  A myriad of studies completed dating back to the late 1980s attempt to demonstrate “environmental value”.  Most of these studies have shown rather tenuous linkages or used meaningless metrics.

Interestingly, most of these studies link to equity markets – i.e., stock prices.  Maybe because stock prices grab headlines, are tied to compensation or are the target to which Boards and senior executive generally manage.

The problem is that environmental/sustainability matters don’t fit into this model, either because they tend not to be financially material, or they don’t develop economic certainty within the “current quarter” myopia of corporate management, financial markets and analysts.

A recent article on the topic was published in The International News.  The article includes an interview with Kevin Parker, CEO of Deutsche Asset Management (DeAM) on the subject of how capital markets currently view environmental/sustainability risks.  DeAM manages over US$775 billion in assets.

With simplicity, clarity and unquestionable credibility from the financial market viewpoint, Parker made key points in the article and interview:

  • Bond markets are poised to punish polluting companies in the aftermath of the Macondo oil spill and Fukushima nuclear crisis.
  • “The process of re-pricing carbon and environmental risk has begun, because these two events were catastrophic.”
  • By contrast, shorter-term equity and commodity markets have continued to chase high-carbon opportunities, including voracious emerging market demand for coal.
  • But investors in longer-term debt including bonds will increasingly avoid unsustainable companies … an inexorable trend that will push up their borrowing costs.
  • “What this boils down to be risk in capital markets, and capital markets know how to price risk once they understand it.”

Pension investment managers realized this years ago since they emphasize stability and a long-term investment horizon.

But there seems to be far less recognition of this by environmental/sustainability practitioners, as the amount of studies, white papers and pseudo-financial metrics is mounting, with continued emphasis on the equities side of capital markets.  Perhaps the driving forces for this are general economic pressures facing companies are pushing staff to find ways to justify their existence and cost, consultants are trying to come up with that elusive short-term ROI metric for the cost of their services to clients and much of the HSE/sustainability media are vying for limited attention on the part of their readership.

Given Parker’s comments – and the lackluster historical success of valuation of environmental/sustainability matters in the context of stock prices – perhaps it is time to redirect our efforts at finding relevant and credible metrics.

In limited circumstances, financial value of environmental/sustainability initiatives can manifest in material and short-term impacts.  Those instances give practitioners hope of riding those coattails.  But generally, the reality is a little inconvenient.

US State Department Issues Conflict Minerals Traceability Statement

Last Friday, the US State Department issued its statement on conflict minerals supply chain traceability.  Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act requires that the State Department – in parallel with the SEC – provide guidance on due diligence activities to companies.

The Department stated that

… it is critical that companies begin now to perform meaningful due diligence with respect to conflict minerals. To this end, companies should begin immediately to structure their supply chain relationships in a responsible and productive manner to encourage legitimate, conflict-free trade, including conflict-free minerals sourced from the DRC and the Great Lakes region. Doing so will facilitate useful disclosures under Section 1502, as well as effective responses to any discovery of benefit to armed groups.

The Department specifically endorses the guidance issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and encourages companies to draw upon this guidance as they establish their due diligence practices. We encourage companies, whether or not they are subject to the Section 1502 disclosure requirement, that are within the supply chain of these minerals to exercise due diligence based on the OECD guidance and framework as a means of responding to requests from subject suppliers and customers.

Companies should no longer be in a “wait and see” mode.  Basic planning, assessment and program development can – and should – begin now.

If nothing more, companies should evaluate whether the OECD Guidance is the appropriate reference point.  As we pointed out in an earlier post, that guidance contains a number of pitfalls and auditor impairments that may deter its use by many companies.