" /> Intel's Ban on Conflict Minerals Wows National Geographic Photographer
National Geographic News
Photo of miners eating lunch from a communal bowl in the mining town of Pluto in Ituri Province, Congo.

Miners eating lunch from a communal bowl in the mining town of Pluto in Ituri Province.

Photograph by Marcus Bleasdale, National Geographic

Tom O'Neill

National Geographic

Published January 9, 2014

Intel's announcement that every microprocessor that it ships will be made without conflict minerals from Africa hit both a personal and professional nerve for photographer Marcus Bleasdale.

Bleasdale has spent the past decade photographing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to bring the issue to the world's eyes: workers, including children, toiling in brutal conditions in mines overseen by militias in eastern Congo. In October National Geographic magazine published "The Price of Precious," which featured Bleasdale's powerful photos dramatizing the suffering of people caught in the middle of the violent, illegal grab for minerals like tin, tungsten, and gold. They're referred to as "conflict minerals" because of the ongoing strife between army commanders and militia chiefs over control of the mines.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said the company's action is the culmination of years of effort to track down the smelters, more than 60 in all, that provide the company with minerals such as tantalum, tungsten, gold, and tin and then auditing them for where the minerals came from. The result is that, now, all the smelters that Intel contracts with use minerals from mines not involved in the DRC conflict.

National Geographic spoke with Bleasdale in Washington, D.C.

What was your reaction to the Intel announcement?

It was: "Wow!" I have been working closely with the Enough Project to find ways to engage companies on the issue of using conflict minerals, but I didn't expect such a significant action. Intel is one of the world's largest manufacturers of microprocessors. What they did is huge. It gives the effort momentum. Almost one-fourth of the smelters used by electronic companies have been audited as conflict-free. Plus, more and bigger mines in the DRC are coming on tap as certified conflict-free.

There are so many players in this; it is so complex. Conflict minerals are not like diamonds that are relatively easy to source. We need a tracking system.

It must be gratifying to know that your photography has played a role in creating public pressure for such an action.

Let me say that an individual photograph can have a powerful impact. But the real power is what you do with it and whom you partner with. By working with Human Rights Watch, beginning in 2004, my work hit a nerve and was instrumental, for instance, in making a Swiss company stop buying Congolese gold.

What has the response been to your photos in our October issue?

The response has been massive. I have been surprised by how many people were not aware of where the minerals in their cell phones and computers and other electronics came from. I know the article will also engage industries, and there are hundreds of them that use these minerals.

I have also been amazed by the reaction to "The Moment," a page in the back of the magazine with a photograph of a child's funeral at the St. Kizito orphanage in the Congo. As a result of that picture, tens of thousands of dollars in donations to the orphanage have come in, from donors ranging from a media company in L.A. to a law firm in Oslo where I recently spoke. Every cent donated has been spent by the orphanage for the children.

Why do photographs have this potency?

With every conflict it is very difficult to show the enormity of the suffering. You have all these statistics, 4.5 million people killed, 30,000 women raped. To get through to people you have to show individuals touched by the conflict. That's how you engage people, how you shock them to maybe change their behavior. I want to repeat, though: It's difficult for photographs to do this work on their own. You need an advocacy group to partner with who can knock on the doors of Congress and corporations. This advocacy work is as satisfying to me as taking a photograph. (Related: "Marcus Bleasedale on Shock and Change.")

It sounds like a personal brand of photojournalism.

Objectivity is important to me. But when you face such horrific suffering and you know that it's fueled in great part by [the] conflict minerals industry, you want it to stop; you are human and say it has to stop. (Related: "Photography as Advocacy: Origins of a Journey.")

m s
m s

I think it's great personally but I have reservations. Eventually those other sources will dry up and then where will they get these materials? It will be right back to those conflicted areas. If they are indeed doing this. It's like getting some news from Apple over looking into the working conditions of the factories in China but not really knowing if they actually are or not.

Daniel Schneider
Daniel Schneider

Good job for Intel. But this is all PR. If it wasn't for the SEC and the filing of form SD beginning this year, I doubt Intel would've have actually done anything.

Valerie Lloyd
Valerie Lloyd

Good for Intel.  Wasn't aware our cell phones, laptops, etc were being made with conflict minerals

Sean Clinton
Sean Clinton

This is a good first step but all the effort will have been wasted if the conflict-free minerals are used to generate revenue for a rogue regime further along the production line. Unfortunately, this is precisely what will happen unless Intel ends it complicity in supporting Israeli human rights violations in Palestine. Revenue from Intel's operations in Israel are supporting a nuclear armed apartheid regime that stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

C. Francia
C. Francia

Congrats to the photographer, as well. What an accomplishment.

C. Francia
C. Francia

wonderful to read this. I hope this brings more change among companies that are doing this now.

Hans Young
Hans Young

What does Intel think about those African people?

William Quam
William Quam

Since I have worked in the mineral resource extraction sector in the east of the DRC and Rwanda since 2005 I can say we all want progress in this effort however when a company makes a very public announcement in an attempt to sell more product when they know that technically and practically this is impossible this announcement is nothing but a marketing gimmick.  For the Enough Project to come on board with a full support for this grandstanding is totally unacceptable.

Here are my reasons for making these comments: 

It is amazing that a company of the stature of INTEL and a CEO of the caliber of Krzanich; who must personally sign the Conflict Minerals Free report to the SEC; would be willing accept the exceptional high degree of risk to the reputation of the INTEL brand by claiming their complete supply chain is free of conflict minerals.

Due to the flawed nature of the upstream 3T&G mineral certification program throughout the Great Lakes region of Africa, it is currently impossible for any manufacturer who utilizes the ITRI "bag and tag" mineral certification and the EICC/GeSI Smelter certification programs (which exclusively relies on the ITRI "bag and tag" certification) to certify that their mineral supply chain is free from "conflict minerals" as required by the SEC, unless they are willing to ignore numerous "red flags".

The nature of the resource extraction sector in the Great Lakes Region of Africa where I have worked and been associated with since 2005, is one where the level of corruption and instability will not allow ANY company of the size of INTEL to “certify” with any reasonable level of confidence that their supply chain is free from “conflict minerals” unless they are simply attempting to take a mis-informed marketing approach that ignores the “realities on the ground” to a continuing problem that the international community has not yet even begun to address with independent, verifiable procedures that will withstand the rigors of the required audit based on GAO standards.

Mr. Krzanich is advised to carefully consider personally certifying any Conflict Minerals Report to the SEC that INTEL products are free of 3T and especially the Gold conflict minerals components when in fact it is currently impossible for any U.S. manufacturer to do so with any acceptable level of certainty.   

Kurt Filek
Kurt Filek

I was unaware that so much of the minerals we use to build our electronic circuitry came from places that use slavery to mine it. Makes me think twice about what I use everyday. Thanks to all who struggle to shed light on this horrific situation.

William Quam
William Quam

@Daniel Schneider Actually There is no way to check to see if Intel is actually removing conflict minerals.  As you see in the pictures it is impossible for Intel or any other miner to know for certain which minerals are entering their supply chain.

The industry has consistently refused to use the available US XRF technology that would allow them to know with a scientific basis if the minerals, prior to smelting, come from the location the Intel "bag and tag" process say they do.

Just look at these pictures - the mining industry has been removing the mineral wealth of Africa in a non-transparent manner for ever. 

It is very unfortunate that Intel has made such a public announcement to do something that is technically and practically possible to accomplish.  

Solutions are open to Intel if they want to actually be sure their supply chain has no "conflict minerals".  Just because a company the size of Intel says they have accomplished such a feat in such a simplistic manner does not mean they have actually accomplished such a feat. 

Look at the miners....and then tell me they are free of the curse of "conflict minerals".  This announcement is nothing more than a PR exercise as you so rightly mentioned.

In case you are wondering why I know so much about the process -  I was Managing Director of a mining operation in Rwanda with 3,800 miners when the ITRI "bag and tag" program started.  It is impossible for Intel or anyone else to achieve "conflict minerals" free using the ITRI "bag tag" process.

wilmark johnatty
wilmark johnatty

@Michael Olson @Sean Clinton Incredibly?? Really! Do you think one set of people are more equal than others? Human Rights violations are Human Rights violations whether its in Africa OR the middle east. Its you that have an agenda.


Popular Stories

The Future of Food

  • Why Food Matters

    Why Food Matters

    How do we feed nine billion people by 2050, and how do we do so sustainably?

  • Download: Free iPad App

    Download: Free iPad App

    We've made our magazine's best stories about the future of food available in a free iPad app.

See more food news, photos, and videos »