Intel to stop using ‘conflict minerals’ in its products

Intel says its processors will no longer include precious metals mined in regions controlled by African warlords, with Apple also announcing measures to tackle the issue

‘Conflict minerals’ will no longer be used in Intel processors, the technology company announced in January.

The move comes as US regulators prepare to implement new rules requiring about 6,000 manufacturers to disclose information about their use of minerals such as gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten, which are essential in the manufacture of consumer electronics such as mobile phones and laptops.

The metals are frequently sourced from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding countries, where many mines are operated by militia and rebel groups, sometimes with the collusion of corrupt government officials. Income from the mines helps to fund the continuing conflict in the region, which has been marked by widespread human rights abuses.

Speaking at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Intel’s new chief executive Brian Krzanich told the audience that they had been attempting to establish the sources of the metals used in their chips for years.

Krzanich said it was an important issue for the company. “You begin to think about the impact of the supply chain and the potential issues you can be causing,” he said.

Intel’s move goes further than is required under the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which included a measure – due to be implemented this spring – requiring companies that make US regulatory filings to disclose, but not halt, their use of conflict minerals. The law is being disputed by several powerful trade associations, including the US Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers. These associations claim the act infringes on their constitutional rights.

Annie Dunnebacke, deputy campaigns director of international human rights and environmental NGO Global Witness, welcomed Intel’s announcement as “a positive step.” However, she expressed concern about the lawsuit the trade associations are pursuing, as Intel is a member of all three bodies.

“The problem that we have is that Intel appears to be very progressive on the one hand and are being very public about that, but they have not publicly distanced themselves from the lawsuit … The fact that they haven’t casts a shadow over this announcement,” she told Positive News. “This is an opportunity for them to make an even bigger difference.”

Hot on Intel’s heels, in January Apple announced in their Supplier Responsibility 2014 Progress Report that all “identified” smelters of tantalum – a major element used in Apple products – in its supply chain were validated as conflict-free by third party auditors. However, the status of 104 smelters was unknown, showing that there is still some way to go before Apple can announce, like Intel, that they are conflict-free.

The report states that rather than avoiding minerals from the DRC and neighbouring countries entirely, Apple will be supporting verified supply lines and economic development in the region.

“We believe the only way to impact the human rights abuses on the ground is to have a critical mass of smelters verified as conflict-free, so that demand for the mineral supply from questionable sources is affected,” the Apple report stated.

Meanwhile, Intel’s NGO partner in the Congo, the Enough Project, hoped Intel’s success would encourage other industries to take a similar approach. Sasha Lezhnev, senior policy analyst, said: “Intel’s creation of the world’s first fully conflict-free product is a tremendous step in the right direction, but it is only the beginning. This must create more momentum from the jewellery industry to follow suit.”

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