As many other companies in the similar industry, Intel uses tantalum, tungsten, and gold in their manufacturing processes. These metals, often referred to as “conflict free,” can be mined within the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and other countries. Conflict free minerals are tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold. They are used in everyday products such as laptops, phones, cars, jewelry, airplanes, and tablets.
A multitude of mines within these countries are controlled by rebel armed groups who exploit mine workers and use the sale of these minerals to fund violence and war. Since 1998, these militias have killed over 5 million people. They pillage against their own people if they don’t come work for them or if they’re against them they kill them and find people who will join them. The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its average citizen earns $395.25 per year. In 2009, Intel was the first company to begin an extensive investigation to develop systems to validate conflict free minerals. In 2014, they began manufacturing and shipping the first commercially available microprocessors that are conflict free for gold, tungsten, tantalum, and tin.
Aquanda Maria Hamilton
Intel is undertaking a multi-year effort to remove conflict minerals from their supply chain. It is important to them to ensure that their products aren’t inadvertently funding violence, genocide, and other crimes that are happening in the DRC. The DRC has been plagued for a number of years by conflict for its’ natural resources. It has been the deadliest conflict since World War II. The armed groups are earning hundreds of millions of dollars each year by trading the four minerals that are considered conflict minerals. These conflict materials are tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. The money they earn from this allows the militias to purchase weapons and continue their campaign of brutal violence against the civilians. It is really important to Intel that these conflict minerals are not being used in their products. The goal for 2016 is to validate their broader product base as conflict mineral free!
Around the mid 2000’s there was a lot of talk surrounding the challenges around conflict minerals. Intel decided in 2009 to conduct a conflict study of their supply chain. The surveys show that some people knew who was in their supply chain, while others had no idea. Intel then decided that they needed to have a more efficient method in assessing who is in their supply chain and work to address the issue and avoiding having conflict minerals in their supply chain. Many people suggested they use minerals from countries other than the DRC where there is not this major conflict going on.
The challenge is that it happens not just with conflict minerals, but with a number of social responsibility efforts. The fact is that if you leave that area, then the civilians are worse off because there is no one there trying to help them. If Intel and others within the electronics industry can really push others to use conflict mineral free smelters and refiners, it can help the civilians on the ground. Primarily because they are not funding those militias who are murdering and or torturing civilians. Leaving conflict areas can be more detrimental than if you stay and try and help the situation, which is what Intel is trying to do. Since 2009 Intel had visited more than 100 smelters and refiners in 21 countries. Through this process they have identified 213 smelters as compliant for conflict free. The whole strategy is to validate the smelters and refiners as conflict mineral free then have companies only utilized those particular smelters and refiners.
From the business perspective the impact is a very strong reputational impact when customers are looking for products to purchase. A lot of them are starting to include social responsibility and sustainability requirements for their contracts. Forging the conflict mineral free initiative can affect sales. If Intel has a much stronger program and everyone else is similar this can be the dividing factor that sets Intel above the industry average. From a societal standpoint Intel feels like it is doing what it can to help civilians on the ground in the DRC and help them have better lives through the conflict mineral free program and the conflict free smelter program.
The mission for Intel is to ensure that their products are conflict mineral free and not supporting the militias in the DRC. By taking a leadership position they are driving other leaders within the industry to follow. There is a number of electronic companies that also have strong initiatives in place. When one company sets the industry standard media and NGO’s force you to follow. By Intel making the decision to become a leader they have the ability to drive even further change by forcing the industry to address it as a whole.
From a societal standpoint Intel feels like it is doing what it can to help civilians on the ground in the DRC and help them have better lives through the conflict mineral free program and the conflict free smelter program.
Kelli Schlegel, Corporate Responsibility Office
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