My Day at the United Nations: Elevating the Conversation On Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict

The obvious question is: How and why does AMD have a point of view on this egregious situation?
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In celebration of International Women's Day 2014, the Enough Project organized and co-hosted an event on March 6, 2014 with the United Nations Office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict entitled "Elevating the Conversation on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict." The event aimed to draw attention to the worldwide crisis of sexual violence in conflict and generate policy discussion on solutions through a multi-stakeholder dialogue.

While it was a great honor to be invited to the United Nations to speak candidly, this topic was somewhat intimidating. The horrors of war in central Africa, punctuated by mass rape is an atrocity that is hard for us to even imagine in our daily lives. The obvious question is: How and why does AMD have a point of view on this egregious situation?

AMD chairs the board of the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC). This is a group of more than 90 member companies with combined annual revenues in excess of $1.7 trillion (USD). For years now, the EICC has been leading industry efforts on "conflict minerals." The goal of this work is to break the link between minerals that are used in electronics from the mineral trade that supports conflict and human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

As Chair of this Coalition, I was invited as the only industry representative to speak on a panel that included:

I was the last to speak and, each of the other panelists talked in heartbreaking detail about the suffering of the Congolese people and directly linked these horrific stories to everyday electronic products, such as cell phones and computers. When my turn came to talk, it felt like many people in the audience (there were about 500 people in the UN Chamber, mostly human rights activists) wanted to focus their outrage on our industry and on me as its representative. Feeling the pressure of the moment, I centered my remarks on two central issues:

  1. Why are AMD and EICC involved in the conflict minerals issue?
  2. What can we do to help improve the situation?

The question of why we are involved is quite simple: When we first encountered this issue, it would have been easy to take a back seat because the mining of minerals is fairly distant from our place in the supply chain, and our products use very little of the minerals in question. But we decided to act because, regardless of our degree of involvement, if the word's "corporate responsibility" means anything, this kind of unacceptable behavior anywhere in our supply chain requires a response. This action is aligned with the core principles of AMD's culture and our Worldwide Standards of Business Conduct.

The question of what can we do to help was a little more complicated to answer. Working collaboratively with the EICC, we have made great strides in identifying and eliminating conflict minerals in our supply chain. The EICC has done this using a two-step process:

  1. The conflict free smelter program. The natural choke point in the minerals supply chain is the smelter or refiner stage. For this reason, the EICC developed an audit process to determine which smelters use minerals associated with conflict. To date, the program has identified 75 "conflict-free" smelters and more are being added to the list.
  2. The conflict minerals reporting template. The next task is to trace the metals in our products back to the smelter. Given the complexity of electronic products and the many layers in the supply chain, this is a daunting task. The EICC has developed a conflict minerals reporting template to standardize the data exchanged up and down the supply chain. As an example, AMD has used this method to identify more than 180 smelters and refiners in our supply chain to date. We make this information publicly available here.

After laying out these solutions to this audience, I could feel the mood turn from outrage to interest and even support. Our industry has developed a system to do what many thought was impossible: trace materials from the world's most complex products back to their most basic raw materials.

A workable solution to tracing materials through our supply chains, however, is not sufficient to solve the problems of the Congo. The electronics industry is the majority user of only one of the four minerals covered by the law. (The Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act required companies to trace the origins of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold. The electronics industry is the majority user of tantalum only). Toward the end of my remarks I called for other industries to join with the EICC to eliminate conflict from minerals trade.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I ended my talk with a plea for greater collaboration. In almost twenty years of working in corporate responsibility, I have never worked on an issue with this magnitude of human suffering. To make real improvements in this troubled area will take cooperation with governments, civil society organizations, industry and others. Without security, infrastructure and the rule of law, industry's efforts in the Congo are not likely to be enough to help right these terrible wrongs.

Looking back on this amazing experience, I left feeling hopeful that these strange bedfellows - government, activist groups and industry -- could work together productively. Building on this partnership, and with more cooperation from other industry sectors, perhaps we can truly change the world.


Tim Mohin is Director of Corporate Responsibility for Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and the author of the book, Changing Business from the Inside Out: A Treehugger's Guide to Working in Corporations (Greenleaf and Berrett-Kohler). His postings and comments made in his book are his own opinions and may not represent AMD's positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites, and references to third party trademarks, are provided for convenience and illustrative purposes only. Unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such links, and no third party endorsement of AMD or any of its products is implied. Follow Tim @TimMohinAMD and check out AMD's latest Corporate Responsibility Report.

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