The Conflict-Free Effect: Better for Society, Better for Business

Cassiterite (the primary ore of Tin) rocks from the Rutongo Mine near Kigali, Rwanda. 

By Carolyn Duran, Intel

At the Consumer Electronics Show, our CEO announced that Intel is moving beyond microprocessors to achieve the goal to validate our broader product base as conflict-free in 2016. This news is the culmination of seven years of dedicated work to remove conflict minerals – gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten – from Intel’s supply chain and prevent profits from the sale of these minerals from funding armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It’s a milestone that we’re very proud of both as a company and as individuals.

We also know that the job is not complete. We will continue to monitor our supply chain and address challenges as they arise, whether they come from the supplier, the smelter or from the mines themselves. We will stay diligent and continue to improve the processes and systems in place to responsibly source from the DRC.

As excited as we are about this accomplishment, we also realize that the commitment of just one company isn’t enough to make conflict-free the industry standard. And while we feel that sourcing conflict-free minerals is simply the right thing to do, we realize that it’s also an investment of both time and money. With that in mind, we want to inspire other companies to join our mission by laying out the business case for going conflict-free.

To help illustrate the myriad of business benefits, Intel recently commissioned an online survey of 500 U.S. millennials, in partnership with Penn Schoen Berland, to assess millennials’ attitudes about conflict-free products. The survey found that millennials, who collectively possess billions of dollars in spending power, highly value social responsibility. Ninety-seven percent of those surveyed believe it’s important for companies to act in a way that benefits society, but only 23 percent believe that large companies are having a positive impact on society today.

When it comes time to purchase new products, 69 percent of millennials surveyed stated that they avoid buying products from companies that negatively impact society. That number is enormous, and not one that can be ignored as businesses develop new products and services for consumption by this generation.

What’s even more interesting is that only 35 percent of millennials surveyed have heard of conflict minerals. Our survey shows that most millennials care about conflict minerals once they’ve been educated about the issue, opening up a huge opportunity for businesses to be the impetus of that education for the other 65 percent, which will help bring awareness to a serious global issue and build brand appreciation and loyalty.

This generation is looking to us to do the right thing. In fact, after being educated about the issue of conflict minerals, more than half of millennials surveyed said they believe technology companies are responsible for taking action on the issue of conflict minerals – more than mineral suppliers, governments, consumers or NGOs. The question isn’t will millennials care about this topic, but when.

While my team has been traveling around the world validating — smelter by smelter — that our supply chain is free of conflict minerals, college students on campuses around the country and activists in Washington, DC have been working hard to build awareness about this important issue.

It’s clear from the survey findings that we must align our consciences with our business models to bring the greatest benefits possible both to society and to our organizations. So how can we make this happen?

There’s no doubt that it appears to be a daunting undertaking. At first, Intel’s mission to remove conflict minerals from its supply chain seemed like a near-impossible challenge – but instead of avoiding the issue by sourcing minerals from other regions of the world, Intel made a commitment to continue sourcing from the DRC. We worked hard to find creative solutions and to help implement the systems required to achieve a conflict-free supply chain. And Intel is not alone. Many technology leaders have come together. Today, we have an effective supply chain audit process, which paved the way for the global Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative.

While Intel has achieved its goals to validate more and more products as conflict-free, our journey is far from complete as we seek to encourage our partners, peers and competitors to undertake this very worthy goal. We must join together and continue educating consumers about conflict minerals to make faster and deeper strides toward conflict-free products worldwide.

This resource is a fantastic place to start, especially since much of the trail has already been blazed.

Image courtesy of Intel

Carolyn Duran is Supply Chain Director and Conflict Minerals Program Manager for Intel.

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