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.