Intel's lead on conflict minerals presents a human rights challenge for business
Intel Corp has spent more than five years figuring out how to rid its supply chain of minerals that finance violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo region, and now it is offering to show other companies how they can do the same.
Intel’s offer to “open source” its methods for verifying that none of its products contain minerals from armed groups involved in the DRC conflict could save other companies significant amounts of
money and give them a head start in meeting new U.S. regulations that require them to certify their products are conflict free.
“For us, this has always been about doing the right thing,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said at a meeting in the U.S. Senate offices on Wednesday with DRC officials where he announced the move.
Its decision to work on stanching a multimillion dollar mineral trade - used by rebel groups to finance one of the world’s longest running and most brutal conflicts - stands in contrast to how leading representatives of corporate America have responded to the tragedy.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable and National Association of Manufacturers have sued to overturn or limit the conflict minerals rule, adopted by Congress in 2010. They argued
before the U.S. Court of Appeals in January that it is impractical, too costly, and would force them to make political statements about the content of their products, in violation of their First Amendment freedom of speech rights.
At the heart of their arguments is that business should not \be dragged into fundamentally political issues and that they should not be held responsible for righting the wrongs of the world. Strategically their lawsuit is a pushback against the trend for global corporations to take more responsibility for labour conditions, environment, corruption and human rights - issues that traditionally were the realm of the state...
Voluntary accords have succeeded in setting a commonly agreed set of global standards, said Arvind Ganesan,
director of the business and human rights division of Human Rights
Watch. The technology industry has agreed on privacy standards; security
standards have been negotiated. The United Nations has formed the
Global Compact for business members who sign up to a common framework
for human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption. The U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011 lay out responsibilities.
But voluntary accords can only help so much. “The strain today is that we never intended voluntary
accords to be the only ones. Our thinking was that they would become law
because we rarely see companies or governments adopt human rights out
of enlightened self interest,” Ganesan said...
the United States, corporate lobbies have challenged both the
extractives disclosure and conflict minerals laws in court, arguing they
overreach and impose too heavy a burden on business. Certainly they can
carry sizable costs. The Securities and Exchange Commission estimates
that about 6,000 companies are affected by the conflict minerals
rule and it will cost them between $3 billion and $6 billion to check
their supply chain, with ongoing annual costs of $207 million to $609
This is where Intel comes in. Carolyn Duran, Intel’s
director of supply chain, said it took a long time to develop its system
for bagging, tagging and verifying minerals as they reach the
smelter. Now the costs are manageable and other companies can benefit by
learning from its experience.
Humanists for Social Justice and Environmental Action supports Human Rights, Social and Economic Justice, Environmental Activism and Planetary Ethics in North America & Globally, with particular reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other Human Rights UN treaties and conventions listed above.