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Intel: Being Ethical in the Time of Globalism

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Being ethical seems to be simple, yet it needs one to assess the situation and map choices to decide whether if one’s actions have minimal harm or proven beneficial to most people (especially those who have limited power). In this day of globalism being ethical becomes significantly more challenging as consumers and producers alike deal with the fast paced, and overarching ways of products being intertwined with the supply chain. Some companies like Intel are looking into these topics and are trying to achieve their goals of being ethical. The fact that Intel has achieved some of its goals of sustainability and improved its own supply chain makes it an ethical brand to support as it responded to the crises of the electronics industry.

One of the crises of the electronics industry is how it acquires and treats their workforce. Gutierrez quoted a U.S. State Department official saying that “the likelihood that one of those [smartphones] was not touched by a slave is pretty low.” She then further cited a Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) list that states that electronics companies use forced labor in Malaysia. Although the article did not specify which company uses such, consumers need to be aware that forced labor could easily be a problematic way an electronics company might use for their products.

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On the subject of Intel’s labor policies, Intel (with other four companies) provided transparency regarding it. According to KnowTheChain, a non-profit organization that is mainly concerned about how companies treat their workforce across the globe, Intel Corp. discloses more information on its forced labor policies and practices than its peers across all themes. Compared to 2016, the company improved its performance and disclosure by publishing a supplier list, conducting unannounced audits, and disclosing evidence that recruitment fees have been reimbursed to workers in its supply chain. KnowTheChain assessed 40 ICT companies in terms of commitment and governance, traceability & risk assessment, purchasing practices, recruitment, worker voice, monitoring, and remedy. Out of all these 40 companies, Intel ranks first overall with a score of 75/100. KnowTheChain also stated that the companies (including Intel) need to work more on providing their workers voices, in which the company must provide a medium for the workers’ grievances. Intel truly has room for improvement, but them being committed in the improvement of their supply chain makes them a desirable brand to continue supporting in this year of 2019.

Another crisis that Intel and other electronics companies contribute to is their waste disposal. According to Ahmed, “Electronics have always produced waste, but the quantity and speed of discard has increased rapidly in recent years.” Planned obsolescence is pointed out as the main reason people bought more products and threw more away. This leads companies to be unsustainable in terms of them dumping their waste continuously. Alongside with the companies producing more electronics, it will come with the cost of more carbon emissions, and increased energy consumption as well.

In response to the crisis of environmental impacts, Intel strives to be consistently successful in its attempts to be more sustainable. According to Curry and Donnellan, authors of a teaching case in IT sustainability, Intel’s efforts are examples of the feasibility of sustainability in the technology industry. By examining Intel’s timeline based on its climate awareness and results, they conclude that Intel is successful in focusing on its environmental impact. For example, the paper reports that at the end of 2011, Intel had reduced its absolute emissions by more than 60% below 2007 levels. The paper also discusses the intentions of the company to align its goals to sustainability and what and how it accomplishes doing so by providing commentary on the company’s efforts, specifically their organized system of management. However, the authors demand the readers to think about the company’s efforts soon (the year 2020), as their methods could be exhausted, and the company might be off-track with their plans.

Intel certainly did tweak its ways to have less energy consumption and emission by implementing solid sustainability guidelines for their company. With that, it is evident that this company is prioritizing sustainability and it is setting an example for other companies to be mindful on their impact on the environment. If one was to say that being sustainable is ethical, Intel is certainly trying to do so.

To follow up Curry and Donnellan’s call to action, Intel is still committed in their sustainability, as the company laid out plans and achievements for 2018-2019 regarding the environment. Intel accomplished their ambitious energy conservation goal of 4 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), two years ahead of schedule. (Intel Corp. 2019) The company also works with others to apply its technology to environmental challenges as for more than a decade, it has been one of the top voluntary corporate purchasers of green power in the U.S. EPA’s Green Power Partnership (GPP) program. (Intel Corp. 2019) At the end of 2018, 100% of Intel’s U.S. and European power use, 25% of its Israel power use and 71% of its global power use were from renewable sources. It is on track to meet its 2020 goal to reduce water use on a per unit basis below 2010 levels by 2020 coinciding with its additional goal to restore 100% of its global water use by 2025. Intel has a recycling rate of 85% of its non-hazardous waste in 2017 and remained on track to achieve its goal of a 90% non-hazardous recycling rate by 2020. Intel is also on track to meet its 2020 goal of zero hazardous waste to landfill by 2020. Intel continued its commitment to green building practices, bringing total LEED-certified space to 17.4 million square feet in 48 buildings globally – 26% of the company’s total operational space. (Intel Corp. 2019) This brand is certainly making progress in minimizing its environmental impact. For it to be considered not enough could be true in some respect. Zero emission, waste, and/or energy consumption is the ideal. However, with them taking the initiative and prioritizing the environment consistently, it is a valid criterion to consider when considering whether Intel is deserving of support.

The last crisis this paper tackles is that electronics companies and consumers face is whether the brand or product uses responsibly and ethically sourced materials. As a background, Intel’s semiconductor chips, and other electronics from other companies may have used materials from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In here, armed rebel militias control the mines’ profit by forcing people to work in repugnant conditions and employing children as soldiers or workers.

Intel has made efforts to make their microprocessors conflict-free which means that the materials used to produce them are not from exploitative conditions. According to Patel, Carolyn Duran (Intel’s supply chain director) took it upon herself to track the sources of their semiconductors. Duran, together with the support of NGO’s, small governmental institutions, and other companies like Motorola, HP and Apple, she and her team audited their suppliers and collaborated with the smelters to increase demand for ethically sourced tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. She acknowledges that their system is not perfect yet, as it requires persistent auditing as she says, “Suppliers can be OK one year and then fail their audit the next year.” She finishes her interview with Patel with an encouragement for other companies to do the same. It is a leap forward for the electronics industry and other aircraft, lighting, and jewelry manufacturers that joined to help the mines be conflict-free.

Some might argue that Intel’s products are not truly conflict-free and for them to try and make them so is not as impactful as simply just not importing from there. This argument has the basis of Herman and Kamat reporting about the impact that Duran’s investigation had on the regions of Congo. The article states that only 10% of the mines are certified conflict-free and only these companies could export to the west, and to claim that all materials come from these mines is questionable. The authors also cited the “Fault Lines” documentary in which evidence of widespread fraud, smuggling and a lack of oversight was apparent in DRC. They also proposed that the “most expedient move by companies was to simply cease getting materials from a place like Congo.” Intel replied to the documentary, acknowledging that the bag-and-tag system is not perfect, but they did send out a team to “directly observe and examine documentation to draw reasonable conclusions.” Although the company could focus more on the effectiveness of their method, it is important to note that they were the pioneers that brought these issues to light. They took an initiative to influence other companies like Apple, to do the same. Also, simply not purchasing would affect the country’s economy, which comes with a set of challenges as well.

It is true that Intel have plenty of room for improvement and consumers must understand that buying electronics will impact the environment, labor, and supply chain in some form or another. However, to simply not purchase a product is not feasible either. Most people are in the technology age and they rely on electronics in their daily lives, but it is important to highlight one’s needs instead of wants. Investigating products that one purchases is essential to do the right or ethical thing. Being ignorant and choosing to ignore the rampant issues in globalism is certainly not the way to go as well, as it comes with a cost; not just to the people working for the brand or company, but also with the consumers. All people share one planet anyway. With that, it is wise to support a brand (in this case Intel) that gives priority to the lives of the millions of people by caring to limit its detrimental effect on the environment, and prioritizing those who work and supply for it with due diligence and commitment.

Works Cited

  • Ahmed, Syed Faraz. “The Global Cost of Electronic Waste.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 29 Sept. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/09/the-global-cost-of-electronic-waste/502019/.
  • Curry, Edward, and Brian Donnellan. “Implementing Sustainable IT Strategy: The Case of Intel.” Journal of Information Technology Teaching Cases, vol. 4, no. 1, 2014, pp. 41–48., doi:10.1057/jittc.2014.2.
  • Gutierrez, Lisa. “The List of Slave-Labor Imports You Use Might Surprise You.” McClatchydc, McClatchy Washington Bureau, 3 Mar. 2016, www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article63810932.html.
  • Herman, Cassandra, and Anjali Kamat. “Are Intel’s Microprocessors Really Conflict-Free?” Al Jazeera America, 15 Nov. 2015, 12:30 PM ET, america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/fault-lines/articles/2015/11/14/are-intels-microprocessors-really-conflict-free.html.
  • Intel Corp. 2018-2019 Intel Corporate Responsibility Report. 2018-2019 Intel Corporate Responsibility Report, Intel Corp., 2019, csrreportbuilder.intel.com/pdfbuilder/pdfs/CSR-2018-Full-Report.pdf.
  • KnowTheChain. 2018 INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY BENCHMARK FINDINGS REPORT. KnowTheChain.org, 2018,
    knowthechain.org/wp-content/plugins/ktc-benchmark/app/public/images/benchmark_reports/KTC-ICT-May2018-Final.pdf.
  • Patel, Prachi. “Intel’s Carolyn Duran Ensures Conflict-Free Minerals Supply Chain.” MRS Bulletin, vol. 41, no. 11, 2016, pp. 849–853., doi:10.1557/mrs.2016.261.

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