In a recently released White Paper Intel recounts the history of its response, to date, to the challenge of conflict minerals potentially entering its supply chain. Intel and other electronics companies use metals (e.g. tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold) in their products. Some of the minerals may originate from conflict zones such as parts of the DRC where they contribute to conflict and human rights violation.

Two themes shine through the White Paper:
1) the critical role of corporate and individual leadership
2) the benefits that can accrue from effective, strategic collaboration

Three years ago, things were different. There was little recognition of these issues in the electronics supply chain, much less a coordinated response. There was limited engagement with other industry sectors. And there were limited relationships with leaders in the NGO sector and key government agencies. While there is more to be done, given the progress chronicled in the White Paper, it’s fair (and interesting) at this juncture to ask, what are some of the ingredients that have helped support the progress that’s been made? Looking back, it’s clear that key stakeholders worked hard to take advantage of collaborative opportunities when it might have been simpler to take a different path.

Sector Leadership and Action
Companies like Intel, Motorola Solutions, HP and others have been solutions catalysts within broader industry association such as the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and the Global e-Sustainability Initiate (GeSI). They have worked collaboratively with industry partners and have been willing to experiment and innovate. Whether it’s the Solutions for Hope supply chain pilot on tantalum, or launching a new public-private alliance to support responsible minerals sourcing from the Great Lakes region of central Africa, or other initiatives, companies have shown they are willing not just to act but to help lead.

Extending a Hand Into and Across the Supply Chain
These companies reached into their supply chains, and reached out to other sectors that utilize these metals, to understand supply chain challenges and identify solutions. They found willing partners, many of whom were already active developing site-based program and innovative supply chain solutions. They found others miners like Newmont and Freeport-McMoRan; refiners like H.C. Starck and Valcambi; manufacturers in other sectors like Richemont, Ford, and GE; and retailers like Sterling/Signet and Best Buy. The benefits of this collaboration are now starting to manifest themselves in sharing of response systems and tools, innovations like the PPA, and supply chain partnerships.

Supporting Collaborative Architecture to Industry, Government, and NGO Leaders
It’s telling that in response to the Intel White Paper, the Enough Project, a leading NGO active on these issues, described Intel as “an industry leader on conflict minerals.” While there may remain disagreements and tension points between some companies and NGOs over, for example, regulatory language, there is now a collaborative baseline that keeps key companies, NGOs, and government leaders at the table, working together. This is the result of hard work, perseverance, creativity, and risk-taking on the part of leaders in each of these sectors. It’s also evidence of the power and impact that can result when unlikely allies decide to pursue a common goal. Looking back over three years, one can begin to see how support for collaborative architecture (e.g. collaborative research, facilitated stakeholder and supply chain meetings, joint pilot projects, jointly governed resources) have created a supportive platform for leadership and action.

This is a complex, challenging issue that doesn’t lend itself to easy solutions or policy responses. Success will come from collaborative testing, trial-and-error, learning and refinement; all of which needs to be supported by collaborative infrastructure and capacity building. Here at RESOLVE, we’re honored to work with collaborative leaders in these companies, NGOs, and agencies.
- Stephen D’Esposito

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