Democratic Republic of Congo’s SMB set to leave the ITSCI certification scheme

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Societe Miniere de Bisunzu (SMB), the Democratic Republic of Congo’s biggest miner of coltan, an ore containing metals used in cellphones, is leaving the ITSCI certification scheme relied on as a guarantee that minerals are free from human rights abuses.

Philippe Stuyck, the SMB Communications Director cited the rising cost of the ITSCI certification scheme, as reason the company has given 30 days’ notice to end its contract with the scheme.

Statements e-mailed by SMB revealed that the company was joining another scheme, the Better Sourcing programme, which was implemented by responsible-sourcing group RCS Global.

Stuyck said “the transparency of our supply chain remains our main priority, which is why we are doing everything we can to improve and modernise it”.

For reasons including cost, other companies have also complained about ITSC, but have been reluctant to pull out because of concerns they will not be able to sell their minerals without ITSCI certification.

A letter sent to DRC’s mines minister by SMB said “the Societe Miniere de Bisunzu had no choice but to end its relations with ITSCI because it could no longer pay higher and higher costs”.

Used in technology such as mobile phones and laptops, coltan is an ore that contains tantalum. SMB declined to name its clients, but the company supplies the mineral to Europe, the US and Asia.

The ITSCI scheme has provided a way for companies to continue to use minerals from DRC and neighbouring Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. It was introduced after the 2010 Dodd Frank legislation, drawn up in response to the global financial crisis and which requires US companies to vet their supply chains.

The system of bagging and tagging metals is designed as a guarantee that the minerals in question are unconnected with conflict, child labour or other human rights abuses.

There have however been reports by many companies that the cost of ITSCI have become increasingly burdensome.

Jean Malic Kalima, the Rwanda Mining Association chair said “that ITSCI does not review the traceability cost is a huge burden to all of us. The only challenge that stops some of the Rwandan miners from joining other traceability programmes is whether end-buyers are comfortable with them”.

There are companies working to ensure responsible sourcing by using blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrency bitcoin, to help track minerals and guarantee they are clean. This development has increased the pressure on ITSCI to lower costs.

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