No Easy Answers: One Company’s Quest to Do the Right Thing

If you’re not familiar with the term “conflict minerals,” you should be—because your cell phone or laptop most likely contains them. Meaning, by purchasing the electronics you use every day, you have inadvertently funded warlords, mass rapists, and other armed groups in war-torn countries in Africa. That’s a sobering thought. So much so that, in 2008 when the Enough Project brought it to the attention of Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, Krzanich pledged to rid Intel’s entire supply chain of minerals being used to fund violence. A daunting task, to be sure, but one that saw the company’s processors declared conflict-free in 2014 and is on track to make all Intel products conflict-free in 2016. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is home to a dull black metallic ore called coltan from which the mineral tantalum is extracted—which also happens to be vital to the production of every cell phone and computer on the planet. Without coltan, our technology-driven world suddenly stops spinning. According to Vice.com, the DRC has 80% of the world’s supply. The country also has gold, tin, tungsten, and other highly sought after—and therefore valuable—minerals. 75250.adapt.590.1 Sadly, thanks to an insanely complicated mix of politics, armed conflict, and corruption, the mines from which these minerals are produced are often controlled by warlords who use the money from smuggling and exportation to fund ongoing, horrifically violent wars. So how did Intel manage to accomplish the seemingly unachievable goal of a conflict-free supply chain? They did what leading companies do: They utilized their collective brainpower to identify and analyze the problem to devise a solution. They knew abandoning the region would result in substantial job losses, undermining the efforts to maintain or raise standards of living and bring stability to the area in the form of business development. The next logical alternative was to focus on the smelters. After all, there are tens of thousands of mines, but only about 500 smelters that serve the entire world. Intel, along with other manufacturers, industry consortia, and NGOs, worked with hundreds of smelters in dozens of countries to put systems in place, ensuring the minerals coming to them were conflict-free and remained that way even after leaving their facilities. Often, when a publicly held, US company makes significant changes based on humanitarianism, it’s in response to a mandate. In Intel’s case, the company began examining their supply chain years before legislation was passed requiring companies to disclose where certain minerals they use originate. And as the legislation was being legally contested, Intel continued its determined efforts. Vince Thomas, Marketing Director for Corporate Social Responsibility at Intel, told us, “We looked at this as an opportunity to use the way we do business to make an impact on this region and the world. We strive to model good behavior—it’s the way we run our company. First and foremost, it’s about doing the right thing.” 3034867-inline-i-2-intels-ceo-reveals-how-the-company-plans-to The good news for other companies seeking to make the same commitment is that they can now benefit from Intel’s work by using similar processes and the smelters that have already been certified as conflict-free. Even as leading tech companies move toward conflict-free supply chains, the fact remains: There are no easy answers when it comes to mining in the DRC. As Vice’s founder, Suroosh Alvi, states: “If we demanded conflict-free electronics, maybe the rebel groups would simply melt away into the jungle. Or maybe it would lead to businesses avoiding coltan from Congo all together, making one of the poorest countries in the world even poorer.” 3034867-slide-s-3-intels-ceo-reveals-how-the-company-plans-to No matter what, as more consumers become aware of conflict minerals, pressure on other companies to clean up their supply chains will increase. Legislation and complications aside, like Thomas says, “It’s the right thing to do.” To find out more about conflict minerals and Intel’s initiatives, visit intel.com/conflictfree. All photos are property of Intel.
Tina Bayles
Tina Bayles
(Senior Copywriter, Story Creator) I'm a transplant from Texas who has no business being in the coolest state in the union. But I moved here anyway and found a home at Bleu. I love creativity in any shape, form or fashion, and am lucky to have an outlet for mine in something they call a "job."

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