Intel Goes Conflict-Free. Or Does It?

business_ethics_highlights_2We are skeptical about zero-tolerance policies. “Zero tolerance” generally implies “zero discretion” and “zero use of judgment.” We are also wary of unintended consequences. Banning ‘conflict minerals’ can have such unintended consequences. If you “cleanse” your supply chain by refusing to source minerals from conflict-ridden country A, in favour of peaceful country B, you may find that minerals from A are now being smuggled into B and into B’s resource base — and by not being “involved” in A, you’ve now lost the ability to exercise oversight over things like labour conditions, environmental standards, and so on. The devil is in those details.

On the other hand, the company is probably doing a good thing, and the best it reasonably can.

“Without owning the mines ourselves we can’t be sure 100%, all the time, every day, but if we waited for that we’d never be sourcing from the region at all, and that’s not what our intent was,” says Duran. “We want to maintain a presence in the region, source responsibly, and help the people on the ground.”


LINK: In 2016, Intel’s Entire Supply Chain Will Be Conflict-Free (by Adele Peters for FastCoExist)

Seven years ago, if you bought a new iPhone or a laptop, you were probably also inadvertently supporting warlords and mass rapists in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The country has some of the world’s largest deposits of many of the tiny bits of metal, like tin and tungsten, that make up electronics, and they often came from mines whose profits were used to fund the country’s ongoing, devastating civil war. Luckily, that’s starting to change.

This year, Intel expects its entire supply chain to be conflict-free. It’s taken time: the company first set the goal in 2009, and with a massive list of suppliers, it was an overwhelming challenge at first. “We said, we don’t want to support conflict, period….”

What do you think?

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  1. Kirsten Wallerstedt

    Dear Editors, Thank you for writing this post. However, I think your analysis is a bit misleading on the issue of what it means to be “Conflict Free”.
    First, in order to declare products “Conflict Free”, the U.S. conflict minerals law explicitly does not require “certainty,” but instead allows the use of discretion and requires the use of judgement; it’s a standard of “reasonable” inquiry and due diligence processes designed to mitigate risks. ((Dodd Frank Act of 2010, Section 1502 and the associated Final Rule by the SEC)
    Second, the law does not at all ban the purchase of minerals from the countries in the Congo region of Africa, for exactly the reasons you stated. The law instead allows companies to call their products “Conflict Free” if they have exercised a reasonable inquiry and due diligence to mitigate the risk that their 3TG minerals (tin, tantalum, tungsten, gold) originate from conflict *mines* in the Congo region. The law and rule explicitly urge companies to continue sourcing from the countries in question – from mines that are part of the legitimate local economy. The process established to accomplish this goal involves audits and on-the-ground verification systems run by organizations such as ITRI and the Conflict Free Smelter Initiative (CFSI).
    While I am not intimately familiar with Intel’s practices, I applaud them for taking the lead on showing that being “Conflict Free” can be a reality for all companies subject to this law, as well as their supply chains.

    • Kristen:

      Thanks for this informative comment. Your point is well-taken. Our own focus was on the ethical, not the legal standard. But even there, some sort of standard for “reasonable” inquiry should apply. We just don’t want people to misunderstand how hard it is for even well-intentioned companies to achieve “truly” conflict-free status.


  2. El K'bong

    Since Muslim and people-of-color regions are disproportionately
    impacted by conflict, isn’t this prohibition an Islamophobic, even racist policy?

    Where’s the compassion for people negatively affected by conflict?

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