conflict minerals

The subject of conflict minerals is a big one for technology companies at present, as there are lots of ethical, financial and logistical issues surrounding the use of illegally sourced materials in the production of their hardware. There are four minerals in particular that are used to extract metals which are used by many high profile tech companies in certain devices such as phones and laptops. The 3TG minerals as they are known are so called as they produce tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold. These have lots of uses when producing hardware, however, they are also surrounded in controversy.

Crime and Corruption

Much of the world’s supply of the 3TG minerals come from African countries, mainly the Congo and surrounding countries, which are blighted by war. Warlords exploit these countries’ rich 3TG resources by forcing civillians to mine for them illegally with the threat of violence. Due to the complex nature of the supply chain, it is extremely difficult to identify where the raw materials which make the components for hardware actually come from, meaning that it is very easy for criminals to profit from the minerals.

Intel Go Conflict Free

This week Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich, revealed that the company would stop using minerals that have been mined in conflict zones in order to produce their microprocessors.  Krzanich said:

We felt an obligation to implement changes in our supply chain to ensure that our business and our products were not inadvertently funding human atrocities.

He also reached out to other tech manufacturers and asked them to reconsider their choice of suppliers. Investigating the supply chain to such an extent is extremely difficult, Intel had been looking at this for a number of years, so for them to do so and make the commitment to remain “Conflict Free” is a big statement from the industry leader. Even if the process was simple, many companies may be reluctant to look elsewhere for their materials due to the added expense that this brings.

Fairphone

The idea of completely ethical production is best demonstrated by Dutch social enterprise Fairphone. Fairphone’s aim is to make the most ethical phone possible in terms of fair treatment to those that contribute to making the phone, and also by using environmentally friendly materials. The tin and tantalum that they source is conflict free and they pay everybody in their supply and manufacture line a “fair wage” too. In terms of the phone’s specifications they aren’t top range, however they certainly hold their own, plus users are given root access so that they can modify their operating system.

Other features include a dual SIM capability so that you only need to use one phone for work and personal calls, and a removable battery in order to make recycling easier. The price is slightly higher than other devices with similar specs, but you can be sure that you are getting the most ethical phone possible. Fairphone even has a cost breakdown, so that buyers can see exactly where their money goes and what they are getting for the price. Ultimately Fairphone aims to change the way all products are made, by creating a completely transparent and accountable device.

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Sources: Intel Vows to Stop Using Conflict Minerals in New Chips | BBC News Image via Enough Project

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