Intel raises the bar for socially responsible IT equipment

Intel announced at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that its products are now free of components made from conflict minerals. Many Canadians will be familiar with the concept of conflict diamonds, also known as blood diamonds, the proceeds of sale of which are used to finance wars and insurgencies in several parts of Africa, but fewer are likely to know that proceeds of sale of many scarce minerals also finance conflicts and that the metals involved often end up in consumer electronics.

Intel has announced that it has developed and implemented systems and processes to ensure that the gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten used in its products are not inadvertently supporting conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the source of much of these metals. Intel also claims that its approach has not been to simply boycott purchases of these metals from the DRC but to ensure that its purchases of these metals are helping to alleviate poverty in the DRC and not going to finance war.

Despite its size, Intel by itself cannot put a stop to conflict minerals, but by making conflict free electronic equipment, cell phones and computers as well as components, available to business, the entire global community of socially responsible businesses will be able to make a big difference. The availability of conflict free IT equipment means that all those companies that claim to have socially responsible supply chains, for example by ensuring that child labour is not involved in their supply chain, by publishing an annual social responsibility report, or by subscribing to a social responsibility reporting protocol such as the Global Reporting Initiative, should now purchase only IT equipment that is certified conflict free. Failure to do so could attract criticism for not living up to published social responsibility goals.

If the thousands of companies that claim to subscribe to social responsibility guidelines ask their IT suppliers to provide only certified conflict free equipment it will not be too long before all major IT manufacturers follow the Intel lead. At that time the market for conflict minerals will decline significantly and the flow of money that funds conflicts will also decline. Perhaps even more importantly, more of the proceeds of mining will go towards alleviating poverty in central Africa.

GallonDaily notes that, while Intel deserves credit for ensuring that its products are free of conflict minerals, industry attention has been drawn to this issue by a clause added to the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act by former Senator Sam Brownback (Republican – Kansas) that was signed into federal law by President Barack Obama on July 21, 2010.

Information on Intel’s initiative, from before the CES announcement, is at http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/corporate-responsibility/conflict-free-minerals.html?wapkw=conflict

Intel has posted a short informative video on this subject at http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/corporate-responsibility/better-future/conflict-free-minerals-video.html?wapkw=conflict

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