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back to article Has Intel side-stepped NGOs on conflict minerals in its chips?

Intel has just announced that it is the proud producer of the world's first conflict-free processors. What they actually mean is that they are making their processors without the use of “conflict minerals”, which is a handy term for materials that come from the dodgy bastards who enslave people in Eastern Congo. This is a jolly …

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Boffin

The real issue with the Dodd-Frank Method

Is that it's trivial to fake the documentation as there is nothing objective to back up the paperwork. The refiner method, being a filter based on chemical analysis, would require the refiner to fake the results to cheat, and that is easy for a third party to monitor.

Dodd-Frank was written by NGO's to provide a revenue stream for the NGO's by providing source certifcations. It's also why the NGO's lied about costs to implement.

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Re: The real issue with the Dodd-Frank Method

Of course, the other issue, is that it was proposed by Dodd and Frank.

On the other hand, how much more would it cost those having to respond to all of these unnecessary requests?

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Re: The real issue with the Dodd-Frank Method

If you have a 'good' and 'bad' mine relatively near each other, wouldn't they be grouped together under the same 'goodness' or 'badness' label, because of the similarity in chemical signature?

A leap of intuition here as well, aren't those the exact situations that we want to help the most at? ('help' by getting rid of the bad guys) I say that because it encourages lawful economic growth and stability in areas that are affected by lawlessness and poverty?

But maybe those are a minority in the grand scheme anyway.

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Re: The real issue with the Dodd-Frank Method

Presumably if they are that close to each other then the "good" mine would be having to pay the "bad" mine "protection money" for their continued operation in which case we start to get into moral gray areas about if they should be buying from "good" businesses that are financing "bad" business and therefore slave labour through extortion schemes.

I would imagine that the few cases are likely to be fairly small, and ultimately if it puts people operating slave labour out of business then it might be a worthwhile price to pay anyway. As you say though, it's hardly likely to be a concern in the grand scheme anyway and one would assume that issues such as this have been considered, although it would be interesting to see what the offical line is!

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Re: The real issue with the Dodd-Frank Method

Good answer, Peter!

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Re: The real issue with the Dodd-Frank Method

"...it's trivial to fake the documentation as there is nothing objective to back up the paperwork."

But that's lawyers for you: they'll turn down hard evidence in favour of paperwork.

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Re: The real issue with the Dodd-Frank Method @wEASELnO7

As I read it, instead of certifying every worker and their dog, you do the analysis, and if that says it comes from somewhere else, then you stop. Only if it says it comes from a conflict area, do you go looking for certificates showing that it is conflict free.

Of course those certificates could still be fakes, in just the same way that they could doing what the NGOs propose, but what it means is that you don't go chasing certificates for every gramme of the stuff irrespective of whether it comes from a conflict region or not.

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Mushroom

Re: The real issue with the Dodd-Frank Method @wEASELnO7

Pony burgers come to mind

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Facepalm

Re: The real issue with the Dodd-Frank Method @wEASELnO7

-- don't go chasing certificates for every gramme of the stuff --

The problem is that governments are stupid and the "laws of the Medes and Persians" are immutable. One very far afield example: Here in the Untied Snakes we have just seen the state of Colorado legalize recreational marijuana, and (if I've got this right) each joint has to be traceable to the plant it came from, "seed to weed". (OT: Have they never head of cuttings?) Ahem!

Once smelted, "conflict metals " are fungible, once mixed in the stream of commerce, practically undetectable, but Dodd Frank requires this obstacle be overcome by inspectors on the spot.

We can't even keep armed peacekeepers alive there.

Apropos of nothing much; I see there are decorative stones for sale here, to be placed in aquariums. They're imported from China, it being (apparently) cheaper to ship rocks to Michigan than go pick them up. What are they SMOKING?

Silly question.

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Holmes

Same old, same old.

Governments & Politicos love complicated but useless laws where they can employ hundreds for the sake of employing hundreds and spending tons of money, it makes them feel good, and hey, they are spending your money after all.

Companies on the other half tend to be smart about their monies and most of the time worry about the ROI, and even in some documented cases, try to provide a service people want/like. Companies try not to make too many big economic mistakes. The lifeline of the company is on the line.

The Government on the other hand... can play the ecologist with our money in the electric sector, can tamper with the central banks causing bad economic cycles, etc. That's the advantage of spending your money with nearly 0.00000000009% accountability.

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Anonymous Coward

They just need to work on the two following certifications:

Benchmark-bullshit free.

Anti-competitive practices free.

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Bronze badge

"No politician (nor NGO) is ever going to admit to error now, are they?"

No politician or NGO is entirely a master of their own destiny so it is not without hope.

They might not explicitly admit they were wrong but can, and do, conveniently forget old views when new ones emerge or allow old views to quietly disappear without trace. So forget about what they may have got wrong (and beating them up over that) and focus on helping them get it right.

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Re: "No politician (nor NGO) is ever going to admit to error now, are they?"

The problem with that is the law they passed won't simply fade away. They need to explicitly take it off the books or update it to the method that works.

We might be able to get them to do a side-by side where you can use either method, but I expect that's the best we can hope for. I can see the argument that particularly in East Congo we need to be encouraging legitimate miners instead of the bad ones. The expensive cert root seems more likely to work for that edge case. And this argument gives the idiots a fig leaf to do the right thing on the other cert.

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Bronze badge

Do all these materials come from source via a smelting facility?

I just wonder if there's a market yet providing material which comes from elsewhere, such as recycling.

I didn't know that these materials hadtrace elements remaining within them in such quantities to allow source-location identification. That is cool. But the point does remain, that if a man with a bucket dug the stuff out of the ground willingly, and he makes his living from doing that, then withthis method he is going to be penalised as he'll be 'tarred with the same brush'. I'd have thoguht?

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First, the slave drivers there will not allow him to dig the stuff.

Second, nobody would buy from him. Companies do not buy such small amounts because they are not sustainable, and because it's hugely unlikely the ore would be of a useful grade (if an ore in the first place). You really need a lot of buckets (=a lot of hands), and you need some ore preprocessing on site, hence operations are set up.

Having recently read about the proceedings in Congo myself, I am appalled by this situation. Unsurprisingly, the corrupt government is not interested in resolving this problem, since they benefit from the minerals one way or another, and probably are involved in illegal dealings themselves.

Cue someone coming there, trying to enforce some humane standards, and be labeled a warmongering world police.

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Go

Organisations and people use tools they are familiar with.

When an organisation, or a person, faces a problem they employ tools they are familiar with. A carpenter may choose a chisel, an electrican a screwdriver, a mechanic would choose some sort of wrench and an administrator would choose a sheet of paper or its electronic equivalent. It has probably always been like this and I would guess it always will. Blaming NGOs for complex formal procedures is like blaming dogs for barking. It is true, but that is what they do. What we really need are wise legislators who listen to the various groups proposing their own solutions and then choose the least worst solutions wisely. This will only happen when significant numbers of the 'citizenry' take notice and take interest in what is happening and make sufficient noise about it to drown out the siren calls of the various NGOs with their own axes to grind. Politicians listen to the noise and react accordingly - for they want to be re-elected.

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Re: Organisations and people use tools they are familiar with.

oh, my aching beak. where to begin?

if it were only this simple here in the good old USofA. since the Citizens United decision the gathering of large numbers of the citizens to shout at their congresscritters has been completely offset by the monied class. it's hard for the crowd to be heard over the guy with the 50MW megaphone he just bought with a campaign contribution.

add to that the difficulty your representatives have in telling astroturf from grassroots and it just complicates the problem. now stir-in the average voter's attention span, approximately 15 seconds, and the 24/7/365 brain laundries* run via various media outlets and... well, you get the picture.

by the time elections roll around again the mass of voters, except the informed who have always been a minority, have forgotten the issues (look! shiny!) and will either vote for the party line or based on the latest fake scandal.

surprise!

* one particular "news" outlet has had a court decide that lying to their listeners is a protected right!

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50 MW megaphone?

Man, that could be legally classed as a weapon of mass destruction. Or maybe something Atreides would use.

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Re: Organisations and people use tools they are familiar with.

@willi00000000, 2308: But in this case, wouldn't the big (bad?) money been from superpacs funded by the likes of Intel? In actuality, Citizens United, decided in early 2010, probably was far to late to affect the content of Dodd-Frank, signed into law in the middle of that year.

Everything else here is pretty much on the mark, but said much more humorously by H. L. Mencken 69 - 90 years ago.

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Doing it the easy way

If Dodd-Frank is the legal method you must use to be compliant then are Intel, despite their method being sensible, effective and efficient, still judged to be legally non-compliant? Basically are they allowed by the morons who decided that doing it the hard way is the only way, to call their stuff "Conflict Free"?

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Intel and Enough know it is not possible

The biggest problem for both Intel and Enough Project is much simpler - both organizations know that it is impossible for Intel to do what they said they could, remove ALL "conflict minerals" from their supply chain the way they said they did it.

Exclusively utilizing the ITRI "bag and tag" and the EICC smelter certification program, which exclusively utilizes the ITRI "bag and tag" will NEVER keep "conflict minerals" out of the supply chain.

I suggested the ITRI that simply including the tried and true XRF technology would get them to where they want to get to. ITRI and EICC trade group ( which are owned by the minerals traders, smelters and Intel's' and Apples and all the major electronics manufacturers) since 2008 have steadfastly entertained ANY changes to the "bag and tag" process.

Now on the idea of corruption and transparency - how difficult is it in the east of the RDC or Rwanda (where I managed 3,800 miners) do you think it is to forge a "country of origin" document for a shipment that contains 24 mt of SN at $22,000 ~ /24 ton. Now 1 kg of TA has a value of approx $350...and it cost perhaps $10 per kg to buy the TA from the miners. How much money it there in a container of TA (tantalum) (24 mt) ?

And people who live in California or Washington DC can stand up at CES 2014 an announce that they have the situation under-control...when none of them have spent more than 2 weeks in the DRC.

Why would Intel use the Key note speech of the CES 2014 show to announce such an accomplishment if not to sell more product and completely ignore the "reality on the ground"?

My question for Intel is what other nasty secrets are contained inside their latest product offering?

I asked @bkrunner for an answer but since news broke he has yet to answer any of us who are asking the same question. I suggest everyone ask until they come clean....and pass on buying until they do...ALL of the EICC (Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition) members.

Perhaps they should stop fixing their gold games and racing sailboats until the pay attention to a situation they collectively correct 5 yeas ago.

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