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November 17, 2011
Praxis Targets Cell Service Providers in Conflict Minerals Campaign
    by Robert Kropp

SocialFunds.com talks with Mark Regier of Praxis Mutual Funds about the launch of campaign to bring cell service providers into the conversation about conflict minerals.


Even before the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act mandated that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) require companies to disclose whether they use conflict minerals originating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or an adjoining country, investors had sought to raise awareness of the human rights violations associated with the issue.

As the SEC developed draft rules that were first published nearly two years ago, a coalition of investors submitted a letter detailing what it thought necessary for protecting investors while addressing the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the DRC.

The conflict "is fuelled by various militias who reap their profits by controlling the country's vast natural resources. According to the United Nations, over 50% of the mines in Eastern Congo are controlled by warring armed groups," the investors stated at the time. "These DRC minerals enter a complex supply chain and subsequently make their way into products such as cell phones, laptops, and video game systems, as well as components for automobiles, airplane engines, medical devices, and other products."

More recently, an investor coalition led by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) specifically addressed the sourcing of conflict minerals in a statement which read in part, "Comprehensive assessments of potential exposure to human rights violations throughout the entire supply chain are an essential measure of sound governance building trust and, consequently, value in the brand."

Mark Regier, Director of Stewardship Investing for Everence Financial, was one of the more than 90 signatories to ICCR's statement. He spoke with SocialFunds.com this week about a campaign launched by Praxis Mutual Funds to raise awareness of the issue among customers of cell phone service providers. The Praxis Mutual Funds are advised by Everence.

In a statement accompanying the launch, Regier explained, "Children and adults are forced—through rape and brute force—to work in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The reason for the violence is, sadly, to extract minerals such as tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, which are essential in the manufacturing of our most common electronic devices, such as cell phones."

"We're involved on multiple fronts in conflict minerals through ICCR, but we wondered how we could help people see how this issue touches their lives," Regier told SocialFunds.com. "There are a number of campaigns working directly with the electronics manufacturers, but we've seen the value of bringing other aspects of the supply chain into the mix."

"To our knowledge, nobody has worked with the major cell service providers," he continued. "Four companies today control 80% of the market. We wanted to bring them into the conversation because well over a majority of Americans get their cell phones through their service providers. They're major players in funneling people to certain types of phones. So this is an opportunity to educate our constituents on how their lives and their choices are a part of all this."

The campaign invites customers of the four major cell phone service providers—AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon—to email their providers, expressing concern over the use of conflict minerals in their cell phones.

"The illicit trade of conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo supports armed groups and perpetuates cycles of death, rape and violence," the email states, and requests that the providers take a leading role in insuring that cell phones are free of conflict minerals.

"Our campaign briefly introduces people to the issue of conflict minerals and the connection to cell phones and cell service providers," Regier said. "If you're setting up preferred networks with manufacturers, they become part of your supply chain. These relationships do matter and service providers have to take ownership of that responsibility and be active in the conversation."

While the campaign was just launched this week, Regier said that the providers have already been contacted by Praxis.

"The conversations are at the very earliest stages, but some of them have already indicated that this is an issue that is on their radar and that they are addressing it," he said.

A formal launch call for advisors will occur the week after Thanksgiving. "Some of the service providers have been resistant to even responding, so we're hoping that as the emails start to trickle in it will inspire them to consider this something they should respond to," Regier said.

"It's hard to imagine that in the year 2011 we have to talk about slavery, but apparently we do," he continued. "Not only do we have a desire to achieve certain social ends, but we also want to bring others along with us to the intersection that exists between corporate practice, investing, and the retail community. We hope we can be a little part of bringing people's awareness to the issue as we make our way through this globalized world we live in."

 

 
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