Four materials frequently used in the manufacture of computers and storage devices – tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold – are “conflict materials,” or materials primarily mined in areas with ongoing conflict and human rights violations, particularly the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hewlett-Packard is focusing on ensuring that its supply chain obtains these minerals from conflict-free areas, says Schick.
He notes that publicly traded U.S. companies are required, starting this year, to report whether their products contain conflict materials. “At HP, we are not doing this just because of government regulations,” Schick says. “Our customers, shareholders and human rights activists all are asking for it and it is simply the right thing to do.” HP started looking at this issue in 2008 and worked closely with the government to craft its disclosure regulations, Schick says. “We also took a leadership role in putting together cross-industry working groups.”
HP has focused on the smelters in its efforts to eliminate conflict materials from its supply chain. “There probably are 100,000 mines out there extracting these materials and around 300 smelters. The smelters are the choke point,” he says. HP has been able to work with these smelters to develop an auditing and certification program for the mines they buy from, he says. “As long as we know the materials they are buying are conflict free, we can be confident that the materials we buy from them are conflict free.”
Unfortunately, there currently is not enough supply of all these minerals to ensure 100 percent use of conflict-free materials, he says. The most progress has been made on tantalum, he says. “For the other three materials, the number of suppliers audited and certified as being conflict free is more in the range of 20 percent to 40 percent, he says. “We still have some work to do to be comfortable with having enough supply coming in to the industry,” Schick says. “We don’t believe an ample conflict-free supply of the other three minerals will be available before 2016. So it will take us a little more time to get where we want to be.”
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