U.S. Court of Appeals Narrows Application of Conflict Minerals Rules

By: Mark Tarallo

On April 14, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down a portion of the “conflict minerals” rules promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission pursuant to the Dodd-Frank Act.  In National Association of Manufacturers v. Securities and Exchange Commission, the court concluded that the provision of the conflict minerals rules that required an issuer to state on its website that its products may incorporate conflict minerals was unconstitutional on free speech grounds.  In a 2-1 decision, the court struck this requirement, while leaving the other conflict minerals reporting obligations in place.

In an effort to combat the ongoing abuses and exploitation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other African countries, Congress incorporated into the Dodd-Frank Act a provision that the SEC issue regulations requiring certain reporting companies to investigate and disclose the source of any “conflict minerals” such as gold, tantalum and tungsten used in their products.  The goal of the rule is to identify those publicly-traded companies that use conflict minerals in their products and to pressure those companies to find legal sources for those materials.  The final rule promulgated by the SEC required an issuer to undertake a three step process:  i) determine if conflict minerals are used in the issuer’s products, and if so,  ii) undertake a “reasonable country of origin” inquiry to determine the source of those conflict minerals, and if the issuer determines that the conflict minerals may have originated in certain countries,  iii) “exercise due diligence on the source and chain of custody of its conflict minerals.”

Once an issuer determines (or has reason to believe) that the conflict minerals used in its products originated in covered countries, the issuer has an obligation to file a Conflict Minerals Report on Form SD, including a required third-party audit.  In addition, in certain circumstances, issuers were required to post a notice on their website that their products “have not been found to be DRC conflict-free.”  The recent ruling struck down just this last requirement, while leaving much of the remaining framework (including the obligations to investigate sources and file a Form SD) in place.  Issuers should continue to prepare to File Form SD, as it is difficult to predict that any further action will take place prior to the upcoming May 31 deadline.

The SEC has indicated that it is reviewing the ruling.

For more information on this topic, please feel free to contact Mark Tarallo.

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