On 20th August, the effort to responsibly track minerals begun in Rwanda, Central Africa about 5000 feet in the Northern Rwandese jungles. Led by Intel’s Adam Schafer and Erin Mitchell summed up their visit with the words. “we’re here to learn.” The duo visited six mines and refining facilities over a five day period.
Schafer is the director of Supply Chain Sustainability at Intel. In late 2019 they crisscrossed the mineral-rich Rwandan mountains and creeks in four-wheel vehicles passing through her trails and entrances.
Why focus on Rwanda?
The central African country is a rich source of tungsten, tin, gold, and tantalum – minerals that are spread out across the surface and deep underground. These minerals are important for the global manufacturing sector.
Tantalum is an important metal that acts as a diffusion barrier on copper interconnects. Tin is crucial in the assembly and test processes and has a low melting point and remains a key component of the solder attaching the silicon chips to the required packages. Gold is generally resistant to corrosion making an excellent electrical conductor for the pin that connects to other components.
In a share from Intel’s newsroom, the fact-finding mission was completed right before Covid-19 halted air travel. This new initiative will help guide the company’s 2030 Corporate Responsibility Goals as pertains to responsible sourcing.
A decade ago Intel found out that some of its mineral purchases arrive from a complex web of intermediaries indirectly fueling the human rights abuses and other injustices in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Armed guerrilla and militia groups would exploit women and children into forced labor often resulting in unspeakable abuses.
The 3TG minerals (tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold) have earned the notorious classification as conflict minerals. After the 2010 U.S. Dodd-Frank Act, companies were compelled to disclose if their minerals arose from the Congo or anywhere around.
During the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, Brian Krzanich Intel’s CEO then made a keynote address that took most people by surprise. He said going forward all new company processors would be conflict-free.
A potential solution?
The industry proposes a system that “bags-and-tags” the minerals where Intel and other tech companies will track the bags of mineral ore using crimped, tamper-proof bags. The system will apply in a similar way to blueberries on the supermarket shelf that are labeled as organic, and whose source can be verified to prove the organic authenticity. Schafer admitted in as much as the “bag-and-tag” approach is imperfect, it would be a good first step.
Now would be a great opportunity for innovators across Africa to come up with insightful solutions on how to solve the mineral traceability issue.