fair trade human rights technology

Intel’s conflict free microprocessors

I’ve written before about the need for fairtrade electronics, and how the first ethical phone handset has been pioneered by Fairphone. Last week the idea got exactly the kind of big name boost it needed to get it onto the radar of consumers: Intel are to ensure that all future processors are ‘conflict-free’.

The electronics industry uses a variety of metals, including gold, tantalum and tungsten. All three, and tungsten in particular, are abundant in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where mines are often run by warlords or criminal gangs. Worker conditions are dire, children are employed freely, and the threat of violence is never far away.

The big electronics companies have generally taken an ‘ask no questions’ approach with their suppliers, partly because it is very difficult to track down exactly where metals come from.  By being the first ones out of the gate, Intel have set themselves a big task. They will have had to do a huge amount of research and investigation, tracing their metals back down the supply chain. So far they say they have visited 70 smelters in 20 countries, and they are working with third party accreditors to verify their findings.

From now on, all the tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold used in Intel microprocessors will all be from suppliers that meet human rights criteria. They will be the first to produce validated conflict free microprocessors, but they also see their announcement as a call to action to the rest of the electronics industry and beyond.

It’s also nice to see the issue of ethical electronics on the agenda at the Consumer Electronics Show, which is usually so dominated by gadget news. Here’s Intel CEO Brian Krzanich making the announcement. The relevant section is around the 56 mins mark.


  1. Intel’s processors are NOT conflict free 😦

    Intel have 2 plants at Qiryat Gat:

    These are built on land that Israel confiscated from the Palestinian villagers of Iraq al Manshiya which was a village of 2000 people living in 300 houses with two mosques and one school.

    The original Palestinian inhabitants were terrorised out of the village and then the whole village was razed to the ground to prepare the way for the new Israeli settlement of Qiryat Gat.

    Today the remaining population from Iraq al Manshiya is still not allowed to return.


    1. Interesting, I wasn’t aware of that, so thanks for mentioning it. It’s a tricky one. The eviction of the original inhabitants happened 50 years before Intel’s factory opened and before Intel even existed as a company, so they can’t be held responsible for that. Obviously the ongoing occupation of the land remains controversial, so they can be held responsible for choosing to build there later. If I were them, I wouldn’t expand on that site at all, and that’s something they can work on as part of their corporate responsibility – and like any multinational, there’s loads more they could be doing besides.

      This announcement from Intel does refer to their metals as ‘conflict-free’, which is a more specific issue and on that, they’re a world leader at the moment.

      1. under international law, and numerous UN resolutions, intel has made itself complicit in war crimes and genocide (as defined by international law) by building there, regardless of it’s 50 years or 5 weeks, they are also complicit in circumventing the UN conventions on right of return, and thus are in effect guilty regarding international law via the UN conventions. Intel do not have a good record, and it seems they have even apparently tried to have land confiscated from land owner/s in ireland.

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