IT Firms Seek Conflict-Free Tantalum

U.S. legislation says it's time for show-and-tell

Securing the supply chain for electronics just got trickier. A new U.S. law is compelling companies to prove tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold used in their products comes from conflict-free sources.

The Dodd-Frank financial-regulation law will particularly impact technology companies that use the rare earth metal tantalum, known for its corrosion-resistant qualities, in products such as smartphones, videogame systems, and computers.

The law is specifically targeted toward minerals and metals originating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country still mired in violent conflict and highly dependent on its mining industry, illicit or otherwise, for revenue. Increased demand for accountability and transparency in procurement will likely make waves in an industry already jittery from uncertainties in chip supply from devastated Japan and minerals from unpredictable rare earth metal powerhouse China.

Companies like Intel and Hewlett-Packard launched innovative programs for tracking minerals through a complex chain of suppliers before the law was passed, while other firms are more hesitant to do so. AT&T and Microsoft have both voiced concerns about the law, citing a supply chain that involves more than 1,000 commodity-part suppliers as an inherent roadblock for tracking efforts.