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Intel, Apple rated leaders in fight against Congo conflict minerals, Nintendo lagging behind

Intel, Apple, Motorola, and HP are leading the charge against the use of conflict minerals in their products, while other tech giants are failing, or unwilling, to keep pace, according to a new report by a nonprofit group.

Nintendo has made the least progress in limiting its use of conflict minerals, like gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten, in its products. HTC, Sharp, and Canon are not faring much better, the Enough Project has said.

The group, which is an offshoot of the Center for American Progress, works on initiatives to combat genocide and crimes against humanity in countries including Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the latter of which produces the conflict minerals used in products like mobile phones and tablets. The Enough Project began ranking electronics companies on their dedication to stamp out conflict minerals in 2010.

The conflict in eastern Congo, which has ravaged the region for years and has cost more than five million lives, is believed to be funded in large part by the trade of so-called conflict minerals.

The Enough Project also credited SanDisk, Philips, Sony, Panasonic, RIM, and AMD with taking steps towards limiting their conflict mineral usage “by tracing back into their supply chains, piloting due diligence, and joining a smelter audit program.”

The report takes into consideration the firms’ efforts to trace and audit the sources of their minerals through their supply chains. It also considers whether the companies are in favour of legislation mandating conflict-free minerals, whether they have made commitments to developing conflict-free products, and whether they support a universal certification to designate conflict-free products.

"Nintendo has made no known effort to trace or audit its supply chain,” the report said, adding that "Sharp, HTC, Nikon and Canon are taking initial steps to join industry efforts, but their progress remains far behind industry leaders."

Intel, Apple, Motorola, and HP "have moved forward to develop solutions despite delays in the legislative rule-making process by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission or SEC - an excuse that many other companies have used to explain their lack of significant action," the report said.

Intel, which received the highest ranking, with a 60 per cent level of progress towards responsible sourcing of minerals, pledged to avoid using conflict minerals in its processors. It is set to release at least one microprocessor free of dodgy gold, tantalum, tin, and tungsten before the end of 2013. By the end of this year, it hopes to strip one of its chips completely of conflict tantalum.

“The SEC should ensure that retailers and all firms that use the minerals are covered by the rules and that there is not a long phase-in period. Otherwise, the Intels and HPs will be left unfairly holding the bag for a problem that belongs to thousands of companies that have been turning a blind eye to this problem for years,” said Sasha Lezhnev, one of the report’s co-authors.

A 2010 US financial reform law - the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act - aimed to address the issue by requiring companies to reveal whether their products use any gold, tantalum, tin, or tungsten from the DRC. The law also requires companies to conduct a due diligence to trace the origins of any conflict minerals identified in their products.

The SEC is scheduled to hold a vote, albeit well overdue, on guidelines for the enforcement of the conflict minerals rule on 22 August.

Image Credit: Enough Project