HP’s Journey to a Conflict-Free Supply Chain

by Jay Celorie, HP Conflict Minerals Program Manager
Aug 11, 2014 12:55 PM ET

HP Next

Inside nearly every piece of technology that we rely on—from our laptops and tablets to cars and airplanes—are the minerals tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold. However, for nearly two decades, the mining of some of these minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been linked to the funding of armed groups waging a civil war in the country, and it has had tragic human rights consequences. As a result, the minerals have collectively been termed “conflict minerals.”

Our goal at HP is to use conflict-free minerals in our products. This is a big and complicated goal, but, more importantly, it’s an urgent and worthy one.

HP has been working to address this issue since 2007, when we helped establish the Conflict Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI), which developed the electronic industry’s approach to sourcing conflict-free minerals. This approach involves three key elements: 

  • Traceability;
  • Independent auditing; and
  • Common data exchange through supply chains.

But what can feel like a far-away, difficult-to-understand situation was made very clear to me when, in 2012, I traveled to the DRC and Rwanda with a team of organizations, including USAID, to see firsthand what is happening. Our team visited four mine sites and a trading center, and met with four Provincial Ministers of Mines and a number of governmental, business and civil society organizations to understand the conditions. This visit gave our team renewed focus and purpose to achieve responsible mineral sourcing that’s sustainable for businesses and better for people in the region.

An important part of reaching our conflict-free goal lies with the smelters and refiners. These groups are a critical part of the mineral supply chain because they source the minerals—which means they are best positioned to scrutinize the chain of custody and ensure that we are sourcing from conflict-free locations.  We have worked with the industry to directly engage with smelters since 2010 to explain both the importance of auditing and how the process works. In April 2013, HP published its smelter list after an independent review of our smelter identification process.

Recently, along more than a thousand other companies, we filed our Conflict Mineral Report with the U.S. government. But transparency and reporting is only one part of the solution. 

Initiatives such as the Conflict-Free Smelter Program, coordinated by CFSI, independently validate the sourcing practices of smelters and refiners. The initiative publishes its information so that we can make better decisions about the suppliers we choose.

We need to reach a critical mass of smelters and refiners that choose to source conflict-free minerals. HP is aggressively engaging smelters and asking our suppliers to do the same.

Many businesses and organizations are trying to solve this problem, but we need more help to drive change. We want all companies, public or private, large or small, to get involved. There are a few initial steps any company can take:

  • First, join or contribute to the CFSI. 
  • Second, increase demand for verified conflict-free smelters by publishing the smelters and refiners in your supply chain. More transparency will spur more participation.
  • And third, ask smelters directly and ask your suppliers to encourage your smelters and refiners to participate in the Conflict Free Smelter Program.

The bottom line is that this is a challenging problem with no easy solution. At HP, we’re working hard with a host of partners and organizations to help make a difference. The collective voice and actions of business, government and advocates have brought about much needed progress. But there is more to be done.