Conflict Minerals Rule Relax Sets ‘Dangerous Precedent': Senators

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By Andrea Vittorio

One of the architects behind a corporate disclosure rule meant to help keep minerals that fund conflict in Africa out of computer chips, jewelry and other products is pushing back against the Securities and Exchange Commission’s moves to relax it.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), who co-sponsored the conflict minerals legislation that eventually became part of the Dodd-Frank Act, joined five other Democratic senators in calling out the “dangerous precedent” set earlier this month when the SEC’s acting chairman said companies that only provide basic disclosures on where they think the minerals in their products come from won’t get into trouble.

“As Acting Chairman, you do not have the authority to direct a halt to enforcement,” they wrote in an April 26 letter to Michael Piwowar, a Republican. “And yet, you have repeatedly taken aim at this bipartisan measure.”

The SEC declined to comment. The commission’s only other member, Democrat Kara Stein, has also slammed Piwowar’s “de facto rulemaking” on conflict minerals.

Supply Chain Insight

The commission’s rule requiring annual conflict minerals reporting, which spent years in court, has been an early target of the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda because it is seen as cumbersome and not relevant to securities regulation.

Government Accountability Office research shows many companies face challenges in determining the origin of tin, tantalum, tungsten or gold in their products, due in part to complex supply chains involving many suppliers and processing facilities.

But some companies say the disclosures have helped with understanding their supply chains and built awareness among their suppliers about the use of conflict minerals, according to a new GAO report sent to several congressional committees, the SEC and the State Department. The State Department has launched a review of how best to support responsible sourcing.

Companies such as Apple Inc. and Intel Corp. have said they’ll keep up their commitments to source responsibly regardless of what happens to the rule.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Vittorio in Washington at avittorio@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Yin Wilczek at ywilczek@bna.com

For More Information

The senators' letter is available at http://src.bna.com/ohz

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