It's the blood-diamond issue of the electronics industry: Many of the minerals used in electronics -- including tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold -- come from areas awash in corruption, child labor and slavery, where mines are controlled by armed groups.
A U.S. law requiring companies to disclose if they source key minerals from conflict-torn areas has lit a fire under businesses to trace their supply chains and find conflict-free supplies. But with other countries also pressuring companies to eliminate conflict materials, there's more demand for conflict-free minerals than supply.
And removing conflict minerals from a supply chain can be a major challenge because many companies don't deal directly with a mine. Instead, those companies would need to check with every supplier along the route if they want to make sure their products are conflict-free.
A new fund backed by Intel, HP and the GE Foundation aims to lower the cost for smelters that seek to prove they're conflict-free. It joins a variety of programs that have sprung up to support different stages of the mineral supply chain.
The new Conflict-Free Smelters (CFS) Early-Adopters Fund was created to promote early participation in the Conflict-Free Smelter program overseen by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative.
For smelters that enter the CFS program, the fund will cover a portion of the costs that they face in transitioning to conflict-free minerals. If smelters meet the protocols set out by the program, they can defray half of the cost of their first successful audit, up to $5,000.
The fund will be managed by Resolve, a D.C.-based nonprofit that work to overcome natural resource, health and development challenges.
HP and Intel were also among the initial members of the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade, which launched late last year.