Intel presses for conflict-free minerals in Africa with new microprocessors

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conflict-free tantalum

Africa has a lot of conflict minerals, from blood diamonds to tantalum and tin. Pretty much all electronic devices require minerals such as gold, tantalum, tin, or tungsten and not all of them are conflict-free. Many big name tech companies have begun sourcing conflict-free minerals in the making of their products.

Intel has been tracking the sources of the minerals it uses in its products and ensuring that those minerals are conflict-free. The chip-maker has also decided to spread awareness about the issue through its global reach. So with all that in mind the company has introduced the world’s first conflict-free microprocessors, something the company describes as “a milestone in the journey of pursuing positive changes to ethical sustainability”.

According to a release from Intel, the new processor is the result of years of detailed supply-chain efforts to address the manufacturing of its raw products. According to the company it has taken great measures to validate the smelters from which it sources the metals of tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold for their microprocessor products. The idea is to not inadvertently fund conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — where militias and rebel groups control many mines, reaping millions of dollars from the sale of minerals extracted by exploited workers to fund conflict and human rights’ violations.

“The microprocessor silicon and components coming out of our factories have been validated as conflict-free for all four metals — tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold,” says Günther Jünger, Director Corporate Affairs, Europe, Middle East and Africa at Intel.

For the company the movement appears to be not just about using conflict-free minerals in its own products but also getting its partners and other sectors to comply to a conflict-free standard. The company is hoping for cross-industry participation from industries such as: jewelry, automotive, medical instrumentation, and other manufacturers to put the systems in place to remove conflict metals from their supply chains, and ultimately their products.

“We have not abandoned the DRC, Intel continues to support efforts to develop strong systems that enable responsible sourcing from the DRC. We have taken the direction in order to continue to support sourcing minerals from the region, as long as it is possible to demonstrate the chain of custody necessary to ensure the minerals are not funding conflict and we have encouraged our supply chain to do the same,” says Jünger.

Intel is not the only company advocating for conflict-free minerals. Many tech companies are beginning to take conflict minerals seriously. Apple has apparently vouched to finally stop using conflict minerals in all of its products by the end of 2014. At the end of January it started using only verified conflict-free tantalum. Microsoft, Acer, HP and Phillips are also using conflict-free minerals in their products.

The smelters used by Intel and other conflict-free complaint companies have gone through a third-party audit process and are publicly listed on EICC (Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition), a coalition of the world’s leading electronics companies working together to improve efficiency and social, ethical, and environmental responsibility in the global supply chain.

Early this year there was ruling to get all publicly traded manufacturers will be required to disclose whether the sourced minerals for their products are conflict-free by May 2014 but that has be shut down.

“On Monday, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia set down its decision. The Court upheld the SEC’s right to make such rules, however, writing for the Court, Judge Arthur Raymond Randolph agreed with the industry groups on the first amendment claim that companies cannot be required to essentially “name and shame” themselves.”

Though the three step process is still being upheld but not legally required to disclose where minerals are sourced.

Image: Electronic Sourcing

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