Intel Ad Campaign Highlights Importance of Supply Chain Responsibility

By Lewis Golove

The past two decades in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been characterized by civil war and mass atrocity, the staging ground of “Africa’s world war.” Since 1998, militias and rebel groups have killed over five million people.

They have funded their operations by exploiting the country’s vast wealth of natural resources—through the extraction and sale of tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold. In many cases, mineral extraction involves forced labor and child labor.

These “conflict minerals” are integral to creating the technology and luxuries we enjoy every day, from laptops, phones, and tablets to cars, airplanes, lighting, and jewelry. After the Dodd-Frank Act passed in 2010, tech companies were forced to monitor their supply chains for conflict minerals. Many also took voluntary action to adhere to strict compliance standards and auditing measures.

Yet reports continue to link some of America’s most beloved technologies to armed conflict and forced labor, renewing pressure on tech companies to take responsibility for how they source their materials.

Tech giant Intel has stood out as a leader in the push for greater supply chain transparency. In addition to ensuring that its product base is conflict free, Intel proactively supports the legitimate mining sector in the region, and raises public awareness in the United States about the importance of ethical and transparent supply chains.

Intel recently released an ad campaign educating consumers about the role that conflict minerals play in funding the ongoing crisis in the DRC. The campaign piggybacked on the success of three prominent Youtubers’ tech-related “unboxing” channels. Intel sent each Youtuber a mysterious box, to be opened for the first time on camera. The boxes contained information on the role that conflict minerals play in our devices, and in the world. You can watch these videos herehere, and here.

Intel’s success in freeing its supply chain from ties to DRC militias is especially impressive given the scale of the tech giant’s operations. Previous attempts to create tech companies with ethical supply chains have met with criticism that such socially conscious measures would not be economically viable when scaled up.

Intel is proving not only that ethical supply chains can be profitable, but that they can even offer a competitive advantage. Studies show that consumers are increasingly interested in buying ethically sourced and sustainable products. A recent Greenpeace survey of 6,000 people across the United States, China, Mexico, Russia, Germany, and South Korea revealed that over fifty percent of consumers would like manufacturers to release fewer phone models and to help consumers recycle their old phones, due to concerns about electronic waste, processing of toxic chemicals, and workers’ health.

Forced labor in mineral extraction in the DRC is one manifestation of the complex problem of modern slavery. Many forms of forced labor and exploitation occur all over the world, in factories, on fishing boats, on farms, as well as in mines. Businesses have a shared responsibility to ensure that they have best practices and due diligence measures in place to protect their supply chains from forced labor.

To learn more about Human Rights First’s approach to combating labor trafficking, please see our blueprint, “How to Dismantle the Business of Human Trafficking.”


Published on September 9, 2016


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