Nothing is easy when it comes to creating the computers and mobile devices we all use and love and the chips that power them. Most consumers don’t think about the variety of materials that go into creating the experience they enjoy when they sit down to a keyboard or reach for their smartphone to get directions to the nearest pizza joint. What goes into making those experiences work is in many ways similar to the workers back stage at a play or event. We never see them or really understand what they do, but without them, the magic doesn’t happen.
But some users care and dig deeper than the magic to find out what makes these devices beep, boop, and bop along on the Internet. One of the discoveries in recent years has to do with the source and acquisition of the minerals that go into making up these devices. Those minerals have become known as Conflict Minerals because thy are mined, primarily in the Congo, in places where profit is king and the cost of the human lives doing the grueling work to come up with the tantalum, tungsten and tin is unfortunately so cheap that it results in horrible and often deadly conditions.
In 2009 the US Congress began debating the Congo Conflict Minerals Act of 2009 that was first set aside and then included as a part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and signed into law in 2010. That law doesn’t restrict trade in the minerals but requires that companies disclose when their products contain these Conflict Minerals. Perhaps that is one way to stop them. Yesterday, Intel announced at CES 2014 that all microprocessors it ships in 2014 will be Conflict Mineral Free.
One has to give Kudos to Intel for its initiative here, but keep in mind there is probably a long way to go on the issue. As a friend reminds me every time he sees me use my smartphone, someone probably suffered horrible misfortune to enable you to use that.