Professor Erika George and Quinney Fellow John Plimpton, a 3L at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, recently submitted a comment to the SEC on the subject of conflict minerals reporting. The paper came out of an assignment in George’s seminar on corporations and human rights and directed research during Plimpton’s fellowship.
Plimpton, who allows that he knew little about the topic of conflict minerals prior to choosing it as the subject of his paper, “sunk his teeth” into the topic, conducting extensive research that drew on a variety of sources, including academic articles and earlier-submitted comments. “My paper was basically a cost-benefit analysis of section 1502, and operated as a rebuttal to earlier pieces that had focused on criticizing the statute,” he recalls. “Unlike all of the academic pieces I had read, I defended section 1502, ultimately arguing that legislation similar to it, i.e., legislation that requires supply-chain disclosure, could prove be an invaluable tool to combat humanitarian crises.”
On August 22, 2012, the SEC promulgated its final rules, requiring companies to publicly disclose their use of conflict minerals that originated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or an adjoining country.
“It is a huge step for American legislation to address the connection between international business activity and human rights, a connection which is becoming more and more important to investors and consumers,” Plimpton says. “Additionally, since the United States usually invests substantial aid in ameliorating humanitarian crises, it is a important step to protect this investment from potential harm inflicted by companies that benefit from the protection of domestic laws. I think the final rules let industry off a bit easy, though. For example, they contain a phase-in period. But companies have been preparing for compliance since the passage of section 1502 more than two years ago. There has already been substantial progress in cleaning up the conflict mineral supply chain, so a phase-in period seems gratuitous at this point.”
Plimpton acknowledges the support he received from Professor George. “Prior to studying under her, I was completely unversed in human rights or international law,” he says. “She was extremely helpful to me by helping me understand the issues, pointing me in the direction of useful materials, and helping me to improve my scholarship by providing me comments on several drafts of my paper. In the span of a few months, she helped me become proficient enough to write a reasonably decent paper for her on a very complicated matter and to draft a fairly well-informed comment for the SEC.”
George is equally pleased with their collaboration. “I am hopeful that we will co-author and publish further commentary on the important role of transparency legislation in the protection of human rights and that our research will continue to contribute to examining the ways in which business and human rights are closely interrelated,” she says.
Click here to read a Washington Post article about the SEC’s adoption of new rules arising out of the Dodd-Frank Act, including the conflict minerals reporting provision.
Click here to read the comment submitted by George and Plimpton.