In 2016, Intel’s Entire Supply Chain Will Be Conflict-Free
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,” says Carolyn Duran, a director at Intel who oversees supply chain sustainability. “How to do that? Nothing was determined.”
It started with its own factories, and worked with a handful of other electronic manufacturers to figure out a way to track materials. Metals mined in Africa might first end up in China or Russia, and before companies like Intel started asking questions, it was hard—or impossible—to say where the metals had originated or whether the proceeds had ended up in the hands of warlords.
Now, nonprofits work with the government to audit mines, and when a mine gets a “green” or good rating, the material that’s shipped out ends up in labeled bags that can be tracked to smelting plants around the world. While it isn’t a foolproof process, after auditing the mines themselves, Intel believes it works.
“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.”
Since Intel and other manufacturers began the program, the profits from mines have started flowing to miners themselves rather than to war. In the last study of three of the major materials—tungsten, tantalum, and tin—a nonprofit called the Enough Project found that the amount of money going to conflict had dropped 65%, and it continues to fall.