This week, Newsweek announced its environmental rankings of the 500 largest corporations in America. Commanding four of the top five rankings, the electronics industry appears to be leading the way in environmental sustainability. These companies should be commended for their leadership, but they cannot stop there. These influentials in the industry must now lead the way in dealing with human rights abuses by cleaning up their supply chains, especially in the trade of conflict minerals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The environmental track records of the greenest electronics companies are certainly impressive. Number one company Hewlett-Packard is recognized for being the first major IT company to report its greenhouse gas emissions; number two Dell has a headquarters that uses 100 percent renewable energy; number four Intel is the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the United States; and number five IBM has had formal environmental policies since 1971.
The size and scale of these accomplishments suggests the opportunities for these companies to lead a corporate response to conflict minerals—the tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold that are critical components of our computers and other electronic gadgets, but which fuel horrific abuses where they are mined in eastern Congo, site of the deadliest conflict since World War II.
So how can the greenest electronics companies also become the most peaceful? At the Enough Project, we believe companies need to take three necessary steps to enable a transparent trade that benefits the Congolese people:
Trace: Companies must take responsibility to determine the precise sources of their minerals. Electronics companies should support efforts already underway by smelters, metals traders, and other middlemen to develop rigorous means of ensuring that the origin and production volume of minerals are transparent and traceable.
Audit: Companies should conduct detailed examinations of their mineral supply chains to ensure that taxes are legally and transparently paid to the Congolese government and guard against bribery and fraudulent payments. Beyond financial auditing, companies should monitor social and environmental conditions with the objective of improving these conditions.
Certify: For consumers to be able to purchase conflict-free electronics made with Congolese minerals, a certification scheme that builds upon the lessons of the Kimberley Process for conflict diamonds will be required. Electronics companies will need to work collaboratively with the governments and communities directly involved in the trade to make this happen, but they can jumpstart the process with leadership and technical assistance.
Electronics companies aren’t the only users of conflict minerals, and these industry leaders can use their green reputations to bring other key industries, such as aerospace, automotive, defense, and jewelry into the fold to work collectively toward conflict-free supply chains. Importantly, Dell, HP, Intel and Motorola are taking a useful step forward by convening a multi-industry forum to take these efforts forward next month. Let’s hope that in the not-too-distant future Newsweek will be considering the role of corporations in making the world not just more sustainable, but more peaceful.
Photo: Gold miners in eastern Congo (Reuters)