IMPACT on Tin, Tungsten, Tantalum
In 2005, IMPACT brought its expertise on the diamond supply chain to global efforts to end the illicit trade of the 3Ts (tin, tungsten, and tantalum). We began long-term collaborations and partnerships with international and regional initiatives to support the formalization of the 3T artisanal mining sector, as well to promote efforts to develop and implement traceability, due diligence, and supply chain transparency for the three minerals.
What are tin, tungsten, and tantalum?
Tin (cassiterite), tungsten (wolframite), and tantalum (coltan) are the minerals collectively referred to as the 3Ts. Tin is a light, easy-to-melt metal mainly found in cassiterite rock. Tungsten is a hard, durable metal with a very high melting point that comes from wolframite—a rock named for its tungsten content. Coltan is a dull metallic rock that, when refined, becomes tantalum, which is a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electric charge.
Where are 3Ts found?
Tin is mined around the world and significant tin mining operations are currently located in China, Thailand, Indonesia, Peru, and Bolivia. China also produces as much as 80% of the global supply of tungsten, while Russia and Vietnam are other key producers. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda both have tin and tungsten mines. Tantalum deposits have been found on almost every continent, but the Great Lakes region of Africa leads tantalum production with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda ranking amongst the top global producers. Other key producers of tantalum include Brazil, China, and Australia.
How do you use 3Ts?
While 3Ts are most commonly known for being in your electronics, chances are you’re using more products made with these minerals on a daily basis than you realize.
Tin can be found in the lenses in your eyeglasses, the cans your food comes in, as well as various pipes, plastics, and fitness equipment. Tungsten is extremely heat resistant, which makes it ideal for many tools, appliances, light bulbs, and electrical wires and contacts. Tantalum is used in automotive and aerospace parts such as ignition systems, airbags, GPS, and jet engine blades, in medical devices including hearing aids and pacemakers, and in power tools.
How are 3Ts mined?
The 3Ts are often mined by artisanal miners, especially in Africa’s Great Lakes region.
Tin is found in cassiterite rock, most often in alluvial deposits on the earth’s surface, along riverbeds. It is processed into tin by mixing it with carbon at extremely high temperatures. Chemicals are then used to remove impurities.
Tungsten can be mined in open pits but it is most often found in mountainous regions near marble, slate, and granite. Narrow veins of wolframite—a crystallized mineral that forms in sheets—are found underground. The mined rock is crushed and milled to produce tungsten crystals. Tungsten is then separated out using shakers, pans, or filters.
Tantalum is largely mined from alluvial deposits, along streams and riverbeds. Miners dig up sand, rock, and mud from these locations and then pan and filter the material to separate the heavy coltan rocks. Afterwards the coltan is processed into tantalum using chemicals.
Once the 3Ts have been extracted from the rock they go on to be refined, often in Asia.
3Ts, security, and human rights
The mining of tin, tungsten, and tantalum in the Great Lakes region—and specifically Democratic Republic of Congo—have been linked to armed groups and conflict financing. The three minerals, commonly known as the 3Ts, have been designated conflict minerals (along with gold) by the international and regional communities. The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) has committed to implementing traceability and due diligence efforts on these conflict-prone minerals.
Artisanal 3T mining remains largely informal, lacking regulation and safety oversight. At mines where armed forces are present, there are instances of human rights abuses, dangerous working conditions, child labour, and gender-based violence.
While women take on different roles in 3T mining, they often face discriminatory views and practices that limit their opportunities to fully benefit from the resources.
For many countries, especially in the Great Lakes region, where the three minerals have contributed to conflict financing, 3T production has often been undeclared and smuggled across borders, resulting in a loss of revenue for governments.
Internationally, private sector disclosure laws in the United States and the European Union spotlight supply chain transparency. Companies in these countries are required to publically report on their 3T and gold supply chain and demonstrate that they have put measures in place to ensure they are not contributing to human rights violations or supporting armed groups.
A number of private sector-led initiatives have emerged to end the illicit trade of the 3Ts and support traceability and due diligence. These initiatives are currently being implemented across the Great Lakes region.
Our research investigates the drivers of the illicit trade of conflict-prone minerals and highlights recommendations such as formalization of the artisanal mining sector, fiscal reform, harmonization of legislation, and strengthening of internal controls to end smuggling.
We provide analysis of certification, traceability, and due diligence, as they apply to the 3T sector. In 2011, we published Taming the Resource Curse: Implementing the ICGLR Certification Mechanism for Conflict-prone Minerals, which outlined a certification mechanism for 3Ts and gold (3TG) based on best practices. The mechanism was approved by all the Heads of State of the ICGLR in the Lusaka Declaration in December 2010.
As part of our work to transform the 3T supply chain, we’ve led efforts to support traceability and due diligence for the minerals, while promoting benefits for the miners, their communities, and the producing countries.
Since 2005, we’ve been working in partnership with the ICGLR—which has classified 3Ts as conflict-prone minerals—and have taken significant steps to the curb illicit trade of 3Ts. We advised the ICGLR during the drafting of the Regional Initiative against the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and we are a technical partner supporting their implementation of the initiative’s six tools, which includes the Regional Certification Mechanism and formalization of the artisanal sector.
We helped develop the Regional Certification Mechanism and currently provide technical guidance to implement it across ICGLR countries. To assist implementation efforts, we drafted a detailed Certification Manual in coordination with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Due Diligence Guidance.
We have also supported the drafting of relevant domestic legislation, delivered out sensitization, and provided training to mine site inspectors across Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. In addition, we are assisting the ICGLR as it operationalizes the Regional Database on Mineral Flows, which will provide national and regional authorities, as well as international buyers, with transparent and reliable data on minerals from the Great Lakes.
We supported the founding of a regional civil society network, the Great Lakes Region Civil Society Coalition against the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources (COSOC-GL), and provided training to support regional civil society organizations in their efforts to end the illicit trade of 3Ts. We further collaborated with COSOC-GL to develop a toolkit for civil society to monitor and report on risks in the 3T and gold supply chain in order to support the private sector in their public reporting.
We directly contributed to the development of the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas, advised on the supplement that provides specific guidance for 3Ts, and now promote its implementation in the 3T sector.
We provide capacity building and sensitization to policymakers, civil society, and the private sector on their responsibilities with regards to due diligence and international and regional regulations. We also work with stakeholders to develop strategies to improve controls and end illicit trade.
We drive dialogue with partners, including policymakers and industry, to implement traceability and due diligence for the 3T supply chain and to ensure benefits reach miners and their communities.
We partner with COSOC-GL, a civil society network across the Great Lakes region that is working on ending the illicit trade of natural resources, to bring the voices and concerns of artisanal miners to industry and governments. Together, we engage governments to strengthen their internal controls and encourage the private sector to put in place traceability and due diligence for the entire 3T supply chain.
We provide sensitization and open dialogue about the needs of artisanal miners and restrictions they may face when entering the formal economy.
We conduct significant outreach in relation to women’s rights, especially their rights to access, control, and benefit from natural resources.
We also promote sensitization and raise awareness among consumers about the origins of the minerals and mineral products they purchase.
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