Jan 072014


Starting right now, every microprocessor that Intel ships will be made entirely with conflict-free minerals.

Just six months into his role as CEO of Intel, Brian Krzanich announced today that the electronics giant hit a momentous goal in the world of corporate social responsibility: Starting right now, every microprocessor that Intel ships will be made entirely with conflict-free minerals.

Every piece of tantalum, tungsten, gold, and tin found in the microprocessors will come from smelters that only source minerals mined outside the quagmire of armed conflict and human rights abuse that plague parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and surrounding countries.

The world of electronics manufacturing is complex. Large companies like Intel buy minerals in bulk from suppliers, which in turn buy them from smelters around the world–and so the electronic companies often aren’t familiar with the origins of their minerals. For Krzanich, who previously led Intel’s supply chain and manufacturing efforts, improving supply chain transparency is part of a long-standing effort that culminated in today’s announcement at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

“I was managing all of Intel’s supply chain–not only factories, but everything we buy,” he told Co.Exist in an interview. “As a part of that, you are heavily involved and looked at as one of the leaders of Intel’s corporate social responsibility efforts. Factories tend to have large footprints in the communities we live in.”

That focus on corporate social responsibility led to an interest in conflict minerals about four years ago, when the electronics industry first started waking up to the issue (This was prior to the announcement of a rule mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which now requires U.S. companies to disclose the use of conflict minerals sourced from the DRC and surrounding countries).

Krzanich’s gut reaction was to just ditch sources from the DRC and nearby countries and rely instead on conflict-free regions. But the supply chain team quickly decided that wasn’t the right approach; it would eliminate a key source of income for local residents. Instead, Intel took the more difficult road, supporting conflict-free sources within the region. In 2012, the company committed to only manufacturing conflict-free microprocessors by the end of 2013.

When Intel first began looking into conflict minerals in its supply chain, the company immediately hit a wall–it didn’t yet know what the breadth of the conflict was or what its options were. The first year was spent “determining if we were supporting metals from conflict regions, particularly tantalum,” explains Carolyn Duran, the director of supply chain at Intel and program manager for its conflict mineral efforts. Intel is the largest commercial consumer of tantalum, and consequently has the most power to change the market.

Along with other electronics companies investigating conflict minerals in their supply chains, Intel concluded that it should focus its investigations specifically on smelters–a pinch point in the process.

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