SEATTLE — In 2014, Enough Project, an organization dedicated to end genocide and crimes against humanity, sent out a letter to 21 major electronics companies reminding them of the link between Intel’s supply chain and the horrors perpetrated by warlords who reaped massive profits from “conflict minerals.”
The term “conflict minerals” refers to four minerals — tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold — that are mined in mineral-rich countries throughout the world, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Central Africa. The electronics industry is a significant user of the “3 T’s” and gold. As Sasha Lezhnev of the Enough Project said in an interview with The Telegraph, “There’s a little bit of Congo in your pocket everybody is connected to Congo nowadays.”
The term “DRC conflict free” was defined by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as products that do “not contain conflict minerals that directly or indirectly finance or benefit armed groups” in the DRC or the countries that border it.
The law, however does not require companies to suspend using conflict minerals from the DRC. Many large companies are either reluctant or unable to comply with the new disclosure and audit requirements. In contrast, Intel has adopted policies for conflict-free minerals that go well beyond what is required by Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
Intel, hence, chooses to go beyond the legal standard of corporate citizenship and strives for higher levels of social responsibility. As detailed in Intel’s 2015 Corporate Responsibility Report, the company demonstrates interactive stakeholder engagement by actively engaging its stakeholders — the mineral workers in the DRC — by complying with their respective concerns via an ongoing relationship of mutual respect, openness and trust. Intel also abides by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s standards of buying conflict-free materials from the DRC.
Brian Matthew Krzanich, the Chief Executive Officer of Intel induces that Intel should continue to purchase minerals mined in the DRC. The challenge, however, is compounded because Intel does not purchase any minerals directly from a DRC mine. Rather, the minerals are mined, assessed and sorted at local trading houses, sold to distributors or directly to a smelter; smelted; and then sent to another distributor or supplier which in turn, sells it to Intel. By the time Intel takes possession of the minerals, they are already processed metals that are ready to be used in the products it manufactures.
“There have been some studies in the DRC by others that demonstrate that the amount of funding to local militia groups has decreased and the average wages of miners have increased,” Gary Niekerk, Intel’s Director of Corporate Citizenship said in a TED Talk. As discussed above, Intel has actively engaged in the concerns of the workers in the DRC. It has been done by engaging in an open and flexible communication and by providing an equitable reward and wage to the employees.
Buying processed metals through a distributor or supplier and not directly from a DRC mine contributes to society’s social, environmental, and economic goals through proactive action. Intel has adopted policies for conflict-free minerals that go well beyond what is required by Dodd-Frank. This helps to insulate society from the negative impacts of company operations, products and services. As of May 2015, 155 smelters and refiners in the Intel supply chain have received a conflict-free designation from an independent third party.
Intel is already underway to enable students in poor and remote communities of DRC to access the internet and technology by giving them access to libraries, instructors and courses available through the Internet However, progress in narrowing the digital divide in developing countries such as the DRC has been relatively slower, but it is still very much evident. These monetary investments have benefited Intel so far and have also produced innovative ideas to make the Democratic Republic of Congo a true conflict-free zone by all standards.
– Swapnil Mishra