When you buy an electronic device, it is almost impossible to know whether or not it has been made with materials that fuel social unrest, violence, and corruption in areas like the Democratic Republic of Congo. But today Intel CEO Brian Krzanich promised at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas that all of the company’s microprocessors will be made with conflict-free minerals. Through a detailed investigation of their supply chain and third party accreditation, Intel will make sure that the tin, tungsten, gold, and tantalum that they need for their microprocessors will come only from smelters that get their metals from places that do not contribute to human rights abuses.
Determining which minerals were safe to use involved a long and difficult process. Luckily, Krzanich’s previous position as head of Intel’s manufacturing supply chain efforts made him familiar with the challenges of sussing out the origins of materials. Most of the time, corporations such as Intel purchase their raw elements from bulk suppliers who have in turn bought them from smelters. Intel decided to focus primarily on the smelters, however, many of Intel’s suppliers had no idea who their smelters were, and others were reluctant to disclose their sources. The company had to work with unlikely partners such as large banks who also bought metals like gold to get closer to their targets.
While it would seem simpler to just avoid DNC minerals altogether, Krzancih found that leaving the region would hurt local economies. Instead, they took the more labor intensive route of investigating each element. By making this choice, the company has the potential to make a huge impact. As the largest consumer of tantalum, their actions could not only help change the market on a local level by leaving smelters who refuse to submit to an audit, but on the global level by setting an example for other major electronics corporations.
Currently, Intel has visited over 60 smelters in 20 different countries. They assure consumers that their efforts will not increase the price of their finished products. Their steps towards responsibility are now being backed by US legislation set forth by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and they have hopes for an international mineral certification act. Within the decade, Intel wants to become at least 90 percent conflict-free and incorporate new materials for the remaining ten percent. Their accomplishments have rated them first among the Enough Project’s list of companies to remove conflict metals from their supply chain, and it is only a matter of time before other businesses do the right thing or find themselves left behind.