For more than five years, Intel has worked to rid its supply chain of conflict minerals—materials used to finance armed violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—and it’s willing to show other companies how it’s done, Reuters reports. The company is preparing to “open-source” its techniques for ensuring its products don’t contain materials from the DRC, which could help other companies get a head-start in meeting US regulations that soon will require them to certify they are conflict-free.
Organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, and the National Association of Manufacturers have made attempts to overturn or amend new rules in the courts, claiming that accurately reporting conflict minerals is impractical, expensive, and requires them to make political statements about their products in violation of First Amendment rights. These industry groups argue that businesses should not be forced into fundamentally political issues or be held responsible for righting the world’s wrongs.
However, many corporations have embraced voluntary standards to address human rights concerns, including audits of fair labor standards after child labor scandals in the 1990s. Voluntary compliance can fail, however, as in the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh last year, where a factory collapse killed more than 1,000 workers. For Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich, eliminating conflict minerals and helping other companies do the same “has always been about doing the right thing.”
Synthetics Overtaking Cotton as Consumers and Prices Adapt
Imports of synthetic clothing in the United States are set to overtake cotton for the first time in decades, while domestic clothing mills increasingly use artificial blends, Reuters reports. Lower-priced synthetic materials are becoming more popular with designers and consumers alike.
Cotton prices spiked to record high levels three years ago, and advances in technology, better marketing, and changes in consumer sentiment have altered attitudes about synthetics. “Polyester yarn has evolved immensely,” says designer Yoana Baraschi. “I believe fashion-savvy consumers in general are completely comfortable with it and wearing it.”
Reuters reports that the change in consumer sentiment has reverberations across the supply chain. The largest US miller, Parkdale, underwent an $85 million conversion of its Georgia-based cotton plant to synthetic materials. Cotton prices have since fallen, but Chinese synthetics are still cheaper. “Cotton’s losing market share. Period,” says John Bakane, CEO of Frontier Spinning Mills, a large US-based yarn producer.
Apple Under Fire for Chemicals in iPhone Manufacturing
Activist groups are criticizing Apple for using a hazardous mix of chemicals that may threaten the safety of Chinese factory workers, the Associated Press reports. China Labor Watch, a longtime critic of Apple, and Green America, an environmental activist group, are hoping to get enough signatures on a “Bad Apple” petition and pressure the company to abandon two potentially dangerous chemicals used in iPhone production, benzene and n-hexane, which can cause leukemia and nerve damage, respectively.
Benzene and n-hexane are not unique to Apple manufacturing, but are used in many modern electronics. Last year, a South Korean court ruled that Samsung had not fully examined the health risks from benzene in its factories after a worker died of leukemia. Benzene is also commonly found in gasoline, cigarettes, paint, glue, and detergent.
Apple issued a statement saying it already has stopped using many hazardous chemicals in its production in the past few years, including PVC plastic and brominated flame. Apple says that all its toxic substances comply with US safety standards. “Last year, we conducted nearly 200 factory inspections which focused on hazardous chemicals, to make sure those facilities meet our strict standards,” the statement reads.
However, activist groups remain adamant. “Apple touts itself as a socially responsible leader in the tech industry, but to really be a leader, Apple must put a stop to worker poisoning and ensure sick workers are receiving treatment,” says Elizabeth O’Connell, campaign director at Green America.