Early last year, Intel released the world’s first microprocessors built entirely from conflict-free minerals. Carolyn Duran, Intel’s supply chain director, explains how she achieved the milestone.
For years, government commanders and rebel militias in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have earned an estimated $185 million annually through the illicit trade of gold and so-called 3T minerals (tin, tantalum, and tungsten)—crucial elements in consumer electronics such as cell phones and tablets. The revenue has financed a brutal ongoing conflict resulting in the deaths of millions of innocent people. Intel no longer wanted to contribute to an economy of suffering.
Identifying how conflict minerals entered Intel’s supply chain would be key to eliminating them, Duran realized. Smelting plants, where raw ore is refined, offered a convenient place to trace the origin of minerals, if only the facilities would comply with a transparent auditing process. That would take some convincing.
Over five years, Duran and her team visited 91 smelters in 21 countries, using Intel’s purchasing power to put pressure on smelters to do the right thing—that is, develop and implement an auditing system to track minerals so corporate buyers can source responsibly. “We ask for due diligence to not only understand where the material came from, but also that it’s not inadvertently or directly funding conflict,” she says.
Nearly half the world’s 3T and gold smelters have now passed conflict-free audits, shrinking the market for illegally traded minerals and reducing warlords’ profits. Duran hopes to be able to declare Intel’s entire product line conflict-free by 2016, and to inspire companies in other industries to do the same with their metal products. “This is not a problem that Intel or any one company can solve on its own,” she says. “We’re proud to be a leader in this area, but we’re not in it to be the leader; we’re in it to get more people engaged.”