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

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Last week we reported on an initiative by the US State Department urging industry to stop using “conflict minerals specifically designated as tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold originating from the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). The issue has gained additional steam this past week as a couple of key activist groups have taken to the streets in front of one of Intel’s plants in Hillsboro OR over an apparent attempt by Intel to “weaken a bill that would block the import of minerals from conflict areas.

The bill, “The Conflict Minerals Trade Act provides, “a pragmatic and practical approach.   It commissions a map that will overlay areas of conflict with areas rich in mineral resources in the DRC, so refiners will know which mines are likely to fund conflict.  The bill also requires importers of potential conflict goods to certify whether or not their imports contain conflict minerals and the United States Trade Representative (USTR) will report to Congress and the public which companies are importing goods containing conflict minerals.   The legislation provides a two-year period before implementation to enable industries to implement successfully, and it requires industry to use outside auditors to determine whether refiners are indeed conflict-free.

The issue at first glance appears straightforward. One need only visit this website (check out the You Tube video) to see why many have gathered to put pressure on the US government to take action.   Activists find themselves angered over Intel’s position on the legislation which appears broadly supportive of the bill but ultimately not in favor as an Intel spokesperson on their own CSR blog site explains, “We want to be certain that the legislation will be implementable, achieve real change in the mineral supply chains and not result in an unintended ban of legitimate trade from the DRC. Intel has committed a number of public relations errors over this controversy including removing some comments from its Facebook page (but later re-instating those comments) and lobbying heavily to “gut the bill according to one press account.

MetalMiner will go on record here supporting the legislation. As an Intel consumer, I’m happy to pay a little bit more to ensure my laptop doesn’t contain “conflict minerals.

But make no mistake – this is hardly an Erin Brockovich story!

This is not about an evil corporation trying to exploit children or tacitly supporting human rights atrocities thousands of miles away. We acknowledge that corporations make big mistakes (of omission and commission) with regard to safety (unfortunately we have plenty of recent examples including the mine explosion in West Virginia and BP’s handling of its off-shore oil rig still spouting tons of oil 32+ days on). We acknowledge that corporations can, like people, behave recklessly, carelessly and thoughtlessly.

In the second of this three part series, we’ll examine some of the complexities within this metals supply chain.

–Lisa Reisman

Comments (3)

  1. Paumanok says:

    Well, Intel has not used tantalum capacitors to decouple the Pentium for more than a decade now, so taking aim at them has been misguided. In fact they use the LICA ceramic capacitors for Pentium decoupling. Also, truly, Intel was one of the only companies that really distanced themselves from tantalum a long time ago, first starting with the OS-CON and then moving into ceramic solutions. Also, as I have stated on other sites, the electronics industry has not sourced DRC materials. I screamed about it back in 2007 when it was apparent that someone was violating the UN sanctions, but it turned out to be the cutting tool industry (cermets). This is all well documented.

  2. admin says:

    You raise a good point about what Intel uses. I will assume that because they have developed such a policy, they must be importing one of the metals – gold, tin, tungsten or tantalum. I doubt it that they would go through all the trouble of developing key positions on this issue if they weren’t sourcing one of these metals. Also, Intel admits that they do source some materials from the DRC. It’s on their own CSR website. In fact, one of the reasons they oppose the current legislation is that there are “legitimate sources” of materials from the DRC from which they would like to be able to source. LAR

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