Manufacture of modern electronic components, such as computers and smart phones, requires rare minerals found in some of the world’s worst conflict areas. Earlier this year, a major U.S. computer chip maker, Intel Corporation, announced that it has stopped buying minerals from the conflict zones and that its products are now “conflict free.”
Gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten are often called ‘conflict minerals’ because they come from regions plagued by some of the world's worst violence. One of them is Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the commodities’ high value is fueling fighting over the mineral rich areas.
Intel’s conflict-free program manager, Carolyn Duran, speaking via Skype, says it took several years to carefully build a new infrastructure to avoid inadvertently supporting the conflicts.
“We know where these minerals show up in our products, we know which suppliers provide us parts or components that have those in them, so we actually spent the first couple of years mapping the supply chain out to get to the smelter," said Duran.
Duran says Intel required the smelters to show the sourcing of the minerals so the corporation could be sure that they were 'conflict-free'.
But simply switching to suppliers from other parts of the world could hurt non-combatants in conflict zones, who depend on the jobs in the mines. In order to minimize the effects of the loss of those jobs, Intel is also helping other humanitarian efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“We do support in-region programs, which helps provide a source of livelihood for those that are legitimate miners in the region, and we are investigating other opportunities to see from a broader corporate social responsibility if there is more that we can do in the region," she said.
But other high-tech manufacturers continue to buy from conflict zones. Duran says she hopes Intel’s initiative prompts them to reconsider their sources.
“Our hope is, as we become more public on it, and demonstrate that this can be done, that others would do the same thing, that they would look through their supply chains and ensure that they know the source of the origin of the minerals and materials they use, too," said Duran.
Although Intel has invested time and resources in this initiative, Duran says consumers will not see any increase in the prices of Intel's chips.