Looking Inside: Intel and Conflict Minerals

Looking Inside: Intel and Conflict Minerals

Kenneth Shotts, Sheila Melvin
2015|Case No.ETH-5| Length 11 pgs.

The term “conflict minerals” referred to four minerals—tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold—that are mined in countries throughout the world, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  These minerals, sometimes referred to as the “3TG” minerals, were used in many industries for a variety of purposes.  The electronics industry was a significant user of the “3 T’s” and gold.  Tungsten, for instance, was used in the screens of cellphones and also created the vibrating alert.  Tantalum held the battery charge in a cellphone or tablet, was critical to the exchange of text messages and emails, and was a component of cellphone camera lenses.

The conflict minerals issue dated to the early 2000s but public awareness took years to develop, following the efforts of nongovernment organizations such as the Enough Project.  Intel began to work on the issue internally in 2008, at the direction of its CEO, and conducted its first conflict minerals supply chain survey in 2009. Intel then pledged to manufacture microprocessors with tantalum sourced from conflict-free supply chains by 2012 and to make the world’s first commercially available microprocessor that is DRC conflict free for all four metals by 2013; it achieved both goals. Intel’s decision to address the conflict minerals problem head-on was one of the movement’s first big successes; the policies Intel implemented to obtain conflict-free minerals went beyond what was required by Dodd-Frank.

Learning Objective

This case enables students to understand how Intel confronted and addressed the issue of conflict minerals in its supply chain. Intel’s decision to self-regulate when it came to conflict minerals preceded implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (which contains provisions related to conflict minerals) and exceeded its scope. Intel’s effort required the company to obtain a deep understanding of its supply chain for the minerals tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold and to implement a certification process for smelters from which it obtained these minerals. The support of Intel’s CEO was crucial to this effort, as was the company’s willingness to work with non-government organizations.

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