Guns and Gadgets

A conflict is erupting over “conflict minerals.”

Large retailers such as Best Buy, Costco, Wal-Mart and Target are reportedly seeking to limit a requirement within this year’s Dodd-Frank financial law that may require them to report whether their store-brand products contain conflict minerals from Central Africa.

The provision in the law is part of an effort to use corporate pressure to choke off illegal mining operations that fund the violent civil war in eastern Congo. The region is one of the world’s leading sources of tin, coltan, tungsten and gold – all minerals used in the production of electronic goods as varied as cellphones, laptops, game consoles and medical devices.

Earlier this year, the Drucker Institute produced a short video to call attention to the problem of conflict minerals and to back reporting requirements for electronics manufacturers. Given our mission to better society by stimulating effective management and responsible leadership, it seemed to us the perfect issue to take up.

[EXPAND More]Indeed, Peter Drucker rooted his philosophy in the idea that every institution, including business, must take responsibility for everyone and everything it touches, directly or indirectly. In his classic book Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices Drucker wrote, “One is responsible for one’s impacts, whether they are intended or not.” He added, “Responsibility for social impacts is a management responsibility.”

For their part, retailers concerns about the new requirement center around the challenge of accurately tracing the sources of minerals, which pass through multiple intermediaries between the Congolese mines and American store shelves. Retailers also argue that without direct control of the manufacturing of goods, they cannot be held directly responsible for knowing the sources of materials used in those goods.

What do you think: Is it reasonable to ask retailers to verify the origin of every mineral in their products? And, as a consumer, would you be more inclined to purchase products that were labeled “conflict free,” even if it meant paying more?[/EXPAND]