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.
- More at Enough Project