Accepted Paper:

'Ethical' minerals and timber certification: Can new technologies improve accountability towards affected communities?  


Lena Partzsch (University of Freiburg)
Sara Geenen (University of Antwerp)

Paper short abstract:

This paper uses a framework on first- and second-tier 'proxy' accountability in ethical minerals and timber standards to study whether and how new technologies may ensure higher accountability towards affected communities.

Paper long abstract:

The United States and the European Union recently introduced mandatory 'due diligence' checks on importers of potential 'conflict' minerals, especially from the DR Congo. Timber-importing companies face similar regulatory requirements regarding illegal logging in their supply chains. These policies stand for a new 'accountability by proxy', i.e. importing countries holding industries accountable on behalf of affected communities in exporting countries. In response to these new policies, many private certification initiatives emerged (e.g. ITRI's Tin Supply Chain Initiative and the Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood). While digital technologies allow these initiatives to improve outcome transparency (second-tier accountability), there has been little consideration for the design of institutions (first-tier accountability). As a result, these proxy arrangements are prone to generating 'ethical' standards deviating significantly from those preferred by affected communities.

Against the backdrop of current research debates, the paper develops a framework on first- and second-tier 'proxy' accountability with a particular focus on new technologies. Using this framework, we first study the use of digital technologies in private mineral and timber initiatives, based on document analysis. Second, we conduct semi-structured interviews with stakeholders in the DR Congo in order to understand whether and how digital technologies may ensure more inclusive and collaborative procedures, as well as higher accountability towards affected communities.

Panel Anth45
Ethical certification between traceability and transparency: the future of digital technologies in Africa