Controversy is nothing new to mining. Whether it is for ores, minerals or gemstones, the history of mining is full of controversial practices. Unfortunately, tantalum hasn't escaped this controversy. Unethical methods, harmful environmental practices and flat-out dangerous conditions have given suppliers a bad name. Yet, demand for tantalum and its by-products remains high.
However, times are changing and there's good news to report. As word of these harmful practices spreads, more and more buyers are demanding ethically sourced minerals. These demands are being met by a growing number of companies that are stepping up and enacting practices that make it safer for miners to source the material, pay their workers fair wages, eliminate child labor and conduct their operations in an environmentally responsible manner.
The supplier you choose has a huge impact on mining conditions. If suppliers demand ethically sourced tantalum, mining companies will lose their business if they don't comply. Some end-product manufacturers that use tantalum now even require their mineral supplies to be conflict-free.
As a way to encourage responsible mining, the United States passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010. This act requires mining companies to disclose to the SEC whether their products contain conflict minerals, particularly those mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). However, even though companies are required to provide this information, they are not prohibited from using conflict minerals.
In order to avoid purchasing tantalum from conflict zones, more and more suppliers are finding sources elsewhere. Suppliers are now sourcing the mineral from South America and Australia in order to avoid the problematic zones in Africa. These sources have demonstrated a commitment to safe, ethical and clean practices.
Choosing a supplier who has a demonstrated commitment to conflict-free practices and products isn't as hard as you might think. Many of these companies are all too happy to share the fact that their products are conflict-free. Here are a few things to look for to determine if your supplier is committed to responsible mining practices:
Ultimately, whether conflict-free tantalum mining continues or fails depends on the consumer. Only by demanding clean and ethical tantalum can we help ensure that the miners are treated and paid fairly and have safe working conditions.