Intel lead on conflict minerals helps, challenges other firms – by Stella Dawson (Reuters U.K. – March 13, 2014)

March 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – 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.

Over the past two decades, transnational corporations have grown bigger and more powerful than many states where they operate, and their global supply chains have turned them into empires affecting broad swathes of people.

With that power have come new responsibilities. At first corporations embraced voluntary accords to address human rights concerns, starting with audits of fair labour standards after child labour scandals in the garment industry in the 1990s. But the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in April 2013, which killed more than 1,000 workers, exposed the limitations of corporate compacts and audits of their supply chain.

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