Seven years ago, Carolyn Duran realized the company she worked for had blood on its hands.
Intel — the world’s largest semiconductor maker, where Duran led sustainability efforts — was building many of its products with minerals and metals extracted from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten, all crucial components in many electronics, fund an on-again-off-again civil war marked by rape and brutal violence.
But getting these conflict minerals out of Intel’s supply chain was not as simple as prohibiting purchases from militant-controlled mines. Intel didn’t actually buy any ore. The raw materials were sold to smelters in places like Russia and China, via buyers in neighboring African countries. Tech firms like Intel wouldn’t buy the minerals until they’d been refined and were ready for use in phones and computers.
“In the beginning, we didn’t care, and just got the cheapest material — we could have been funding conflict inadvertently at that time,” Duran told The Huffington Post. “But then Intel and others came there and made a business case.”
Less than two years after Intel became aware of its role in the Congolese conflict, the company devised a plan. Intel established a consortium of independent, third-party nonprofits that work with the local government to audit mines. Once a mine earns a positive rating, its ore is placed in labeled bags that can be tracked to smelters. Intel also donated $250,000 to a fund to help smelters who want to meet the tech giant’s ethical guidelines but cannot afford to retrace their supply chains.
The system isn’t perfect. There’s room for error — a wayward local official here, a mislabeled bag of ore there. But in 2016, two years after Intel eliminated conflict minerals from all its microprocessors, every Intel products uses minerals from audited mines only.