Intel has revealed new steps to disclose and improve sourcing of conflict-free computer chips

Intel announced in January that it has validated sources of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, used in its electronics, as conflict free.

These resources, essential in the manufacture of microprocessors, have long been sourced from countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and have gained the label “conflict minerals” because of the record of the regimes where they’ve been mined.

“Profits from the sale of minerals mined in DRC are sometimes funding human rights atrocities and crimes in the region,” says Gary Niekerk, director of corporate citizenship for Intel. “Tackling what initially looked to be a near-impossible challenge several years ago, Intel has worked hard to find creative solutions and to implement the systems required to achieve a conflict-free supply chain.”

The US’s recently enacted Dodd-Frank legislation, which introduces a range of regulations to protect consumers and cut risks in the financial system, requires companies to report on DRC-sourced minerals and metals. “Our work has positioned us well to comply with the business requirements of Dodd-Frank, running ahead of the [May 2014] reporting deadlines,” Niekerk says.

But various US trade bodies are fighting the Dodd-Frank act in US courts. In a joint statement to Ethical Corporation, the National Association of Manufacturers,Business Roundtable (BRT) and US Chamber of Commerce argue against the corporate disclosure requirements. “We understand the seriousness of the humanitarian situation in DRC and abhor the violence in that country. In issuing its final rule, the SEC made several regulatory choices that place unprecedented and extreme compliance burdens on America’s job creators without ending violence in DRC.”

BRT says the rules also impose staggering costs on US businesses: $3-4bn for initial compliance, and an additional $200-600m a year for ongoing compliance.

But Intel seems undeterred. “We recognise that our positions do not always align 100% with those of the industry and trade organisations. The US Chamber and other business organisations will decide what is in the best interests of their very diverse membership,” says Niekerk.

‘Crass effort’

Steven Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA, is not impressed by the business associations’ court actions. “This legal challenge to the conflict minerals rule is nothing but a crass effort by industry groups to put profits ahead of principles.”

Julie Schindall is director of communications and stakeholder engagement at the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition, which has been helping to coordinate moves to keep conflict minerals out of the industry’s supply chains.

She says: “Our intention as companies is to ensure that our choices have as positive an impact as possible on the people and communities that contribute to and enjoy our products.” She acknowledges, however, that efforts so far are just “one part of a very complex solution to a very complex problem”.

Schindall adds: “Our initiative began before Dodd-Frank was even passed. We’ve been supporting companies to go conflict-free before US regulations came into effect, and we’ll continue to do so if and when regulatory environments in the US or other locations change.”

conflict-free  Dodd-Frank  Intel  supply chain  Tech industry 

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