Moving Beyond Conflict: responsible minerals and the importance of collaborative partnerships

Cassiterite, the ore from which tin is extracted, sifts through the hands of a worker in Rwanda. A team from Intel’s Responsible Minerals Program, as well as representatives of other tech firms, visited mineral-rich Rwanda in November 2019 as part of an industry effort to ensure a legal and ethical supply chain. Tin, tanatalum, tungsten and gold mined in the Central African country are key components of silicon chips that run today’s smartphones, laptops, servers and other high-tech gear. (Credit: Walden Kirsch/Intel Corporation)

By Julian Lageard, Director Government, Markets and Trade

Take a quick inventory of all the technology around you. If you own a smartphone, a laptop or desktop computer, a wearable smart device or even a microwave, there’s a good chance that those technologies were manufactured with some amount of tin, tungsten, tantalum or gold. In the world of minerals, these are often referred to as “3TG.”  The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) classifies 3TG as conflict minerals while other organisations such as the EU and OECD refer to “responsible minerals” to cover other serious abuses in supply chains like forced labour and toxic pollution in mines.

As an international technology company and a leader in global supply chain security, Intel has an interest in ensuring and facilitating the ethical, responsible and sustainable sourcing of 3TG and other materials, regardless of whether or not they impact our business directly. In line with our 2030 RISE goals, we see this as part of our corporate responsibility not just to the industry but to our customers and the communities from which 3TG are sourced, many of them located in conflict-affected and high risk areas (CAHRAs). Intel has committed to make all of its minerals supply chains responsible by 2030. This is our chance to improve sustainability and make positive change in the lives of people in local communites in higher risk countries, such as Rwanda, Colombia, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

This is why  in 2016 Intel decided to help to establish  the European Partnership for Responsible Minerals (EPRM), a not-for-profit public-private partnership bringing  governments, supply chains actors and civil society together to accompany the EU Responsible Minerals Regulation. The goal is to increase the demand for and supply of responsibly-sourced minerals from CAHRAs and Intel is proud to have been one of the EPRM’s  founding strategic partners alongside Philips, Solidaridad, the Responsible Minerals Initiative (RMI), Diakonia, Cordaid, the International Peace and Information Service (IPIS), the Netherlands and the UK. Since then, many organizations have joined and contributed to our efforts, bringing their own expertise and innovative ideas.

Even though the legal obligations under the EU Responsible Regulation do not go into effect until 1st, January 2021, the EPRM is not only operational but proactively working to ensure that the regulation is complied with to secure responsible sourcing and production. By working together as a group rather than as individual interests, we helped develop, implement and finance projects that are delivering concrete results around the world, including:

  • The Artisanal Women’s Empowerment Credit and Savings Project (AFECCOR): This project promotes women’s economic empowerment by providing women (and men) in artisanal gold mining communities in the DRC with access to credit and savings, as well as the ability to provide loans to members from savings group funds.
  • Tin Working Group (TWG): The TWG is working to implement responsible tin mining practices and international best practices in Indonesia. Currently, the TWG is focused on land reclamation and occupational health and safety efforts.
  • Mthandazo Women Miner’s Association: This project assists the Mthandazo and women gold miners in Zimbabwe in navigating risks and challenges that arise amid conflict. The scope of the project currently encompasses many activities, including the registration of women miner groups, legal training, dispute resolution, training in responsible sourcing, and much more.

We are already seeing the positive impact these projects have had on the lives and livelihoods of people in local communities. When considered separately, each of these projects on its own demonstrates the power of collaboration and innovative thinking in solving complex societal and environmental challenges. When taken as a whole, the EPRM’s work proves that thoughtful, well-designed public-private partnerships can be a powerful complement to regulation and legislation. Just as no one person or organization can implement all of EPRM’s projects, no one law can solve all the problems we face in conflict regions around the world. We must work together — across national divides — to create a smart mix of policy, regulation and implementation.