Intel In the Line of Fire Over Use of Conflict Minerals Part Two

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This is the second post of a three part series. You can read the first post here.

If I were an activist, I’d try to examine a few of the supply chain issues tied to this conflict minerals policy issue. The first area to examine involves truly understanding the complexity of managing a global supply chain. In all likelihood, the Intel supply chain for tantalum probably passes through at least 3 if not up to 8 different entities before the final product arrives as an assembly at Intel’s docks. For example, the tantalum comes from a mine which then moves to a processor then on to a refiner and then possibly to a company that converts it to the semi-finished form suitable for use in making a component. Next it goes to a tier three supplier who makes it into a capacitor who sends it on to a tier two ODM (original design manufacturer) who turns it into the finished electronic assembly where it goes to Intel. (This is an approximation of course, I haven’t analyzed Intel’s actual supply chain). The point we’re making is that tracking the raw material supply chain from mine to grave is not a simple feat.

Nor is keeping “conflict minerals out of the wrong hands. Just as Iran has gained access to nuclear weapons and/or materials used to make nuclear weapons despite all sorts of trade embargoes, “conflict minerals will too end up infiltrating supply chains. We’re not arguing this means one shouldn’t support the legislation. We’re just demonstrating the complexity of the issue.

Second, and perhaps a much bigger “beef we have with some activists in general involves conflicting points of view as to how to solve the problem. On the one hand, activists support “full and complete bans. That’s a perfectly plausible policy option but that doesn’t negate the need for tantalum in all of our electronic devices (of which activists require to build grass roots support for their positions). But what do we often see? We see activists take extreme positions wanting to ban mineral mining and exploration in the United States limiting supply options for these very same companies they have asked to stop buying conflict minerals. Sorry folks but these materials need to come from somewhere.

We’d like to re-state our support of The Conflict Minerals Trade Act introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) last November. In a follow-up post, we’ll examine Intel’s position on conflict minerals as per their own public statements and weigh the merits of some of their activities as well as suggest a couple of our own.

–Lisa Reisman

Comments (2)

  1. Paumanok says:

    The problem is that between 100 and 1000 microfarads in an ultra-small case size, you really have no choice but to use tantalum. Its great stuff and a very unique material. So the DRC has been sourced in the past because the metal occurs at or near the surface and is easily accessible with a shovel or a pick-axe. But I need to point out that since the EICC got involved and then the threat of legislation which made CEOs directly responsible, I can see that since February that DRC shipments dried up to almost nothing. And even shipments from other countries which I always suspected were actually sourced their material from the DRC to hide their origin has also dried up. So efforts have been effective at stopping shipments from the DRC. I am amazed by its effectiveness. Because when I documented this back in 2000, there was a lot of screaming and yelling from the UN and the Dianne Fosse Foundation and now one really cared. This time around the impact has been swift and effective. The pen is mightier than the sword.

  2. Efforts to date have NOT stopped the transport and purchase of conflict minerals from the Congo. Recent trips to this area from NGOs such as the ENOUGH Project have documented that it is business as usual. They even have picture of drums of tantalum being loaded onto trucks etc.

    The issue of conflict minerals does not boil down to whether or not minerals such as tantalum are used in electronics. The menu of conflict minerals include tantalum, tin, tungesten and gold. These metals have to be included. The issue IS the fact that noen of these metals have to be purchased from CONFLICT AREA.

    As with the current activities underway, the work by the EICC is receiving severe criticism from the NGO community. The legislation proposed in the US is also being heavily lobbied by the electronics community to water it down.

    Why the effort if nobody is using conflict minerals?

    Lastly, aren’t the clients of Paumanok the same user of these materials? Not surprising that your research has found that nobody is buying conflict minerals.

    No Blood Minerals
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