One of the most difficult challenges with any new regulatory initiative is establishing a standard for the measurement of compliance. For example, when the European Union's Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive was being developed –- banning lead and other substances from electronics products sold in the EU — establishing a baseline for exempt products was a sticking point. Which products could use lead for safety reasons, and how much lead was acceptable?
The movement to ban so-called conflict minerals from the electronics supply chain is facing the same hurdles. Many materials key to the electronics supply chain are being sourced from regions that ignore human rights. Factions within these regions are also suspected of using profits from these minerals to finance civil wars.
Three industry associations -– IPC, the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) –- are developing a standard that will allow businesses to demonstrate compliance with a law that discourages the use of conflict minerals. Under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, publicly traded companies are required to report the use of tin, tantalum, gold, or tungsten sourced from conflicted regions. The standard will allow companies to share data on conflict minerals and assist in the preparation of compliance reports.
According to an IPC press release, the data exchange standard will build on a due diligence communication tool recently released by the EICC and GeSI. The standard will utilize an XML schema incorporated in the IPC-175x family of standards.
The EICC/GeSI template enables companies to track conflict-mineral-related information within their supply chains and share that data with their business partners. IPC will use the template to develop a data exchange standard for the global electronics industry. According to an EICC press release, the EICC/GeSI tool includes questions regarding a company’s conflict-free policy, engagement with its direct suppliers, and the smelters the company and its suppliers use.
The rapid development and adoption of this tool will significantly benefit the electronics industry. A standard helps avoid duplication of effort. Companies won't focus on their supply chain to the exclusion of others. Once data is gathered, it can be used as a baseline to measure a company's own compliance efforts. Finally, the information will be available in a consistent format.
IPC will begin development of a data exchange standard at a kickoff meeting held Sept. 22 in conjunction with its IPC MidwestConference & Exhibition.