Push For ‘Conflict-Free’ CPU May Put Intel at Odds With Moore Foundation

Intel’s plan for a CPU made of “conflict-free” rare-earth metals may be putting the company at odds with the Gordon and Berry Moore Foundation, an NGO founded by the Intel co-founder and Chairman Emeritus. 

In mid-May, Intel announced that it planned to have a “conflict-free” CPU on market by 2013. The company plans to have all of its suppliers validated as conflict-free for tantalum by the end of 2012. According to their Corporate Responsibility Report published mid-May, a white paper on the subject, and press materials sent made available by the company, Intel’s push for a “conflict-free” rare-earth supply chain comes from prominent allegations that the proceeds of sales from metals mined in the global mining hotspot of the Democratic Republic of Congo go towards funding human rights atrocities.

As Canada has a growing rare-earth sector—with capacity for tantalum mining expected to come online within the next few years—one would naturally expect Intel to be interested in Canada’s “conflict-free” rare earth minerals.

While Intel doesn’t release reviews of mines and smelters in their supply chain, the company has identified a list of smelters that comply with its conflict-free supply chain through a program called the “Conflict Free Smelter Program.”  This program is sponsored by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative. To date, the only report released is for Tantalum, but more are expected in the near future.

While no Canadian firms are directly identified on this list, as according to National Bank Financial’s Rare Earths analyst Eldon Brown no Canadian firm will be able to reach required production quotas for a few years, Canada meets this list’s “Level 1” criteria: “a country with known active ore production which are not identified as plausible countries for export out of region, smuggling, or transit of conflict minerals.”

The United States and Germany, according to this list, are classified as “2A countries” which means they are “countries are defined as known or plausible countries for export out of region, smuggling, or transit of conflict minerals.” Intel has yet to release its rankings for other smelters that are used for other rare-earth metals, but there is no reason to believe that Canada would rank lower than a “Level 1” criteria.

Despite Canada’s exceptional status as a supplier of rare earths, the Gordon and Berry Moore Foundation believes that the Canadian mining sector needs to be “reformed”. According to disclosures found on the Moore Foundation’s website, the Foundation has donated $2.1 million—$1.3 million in 2011—to “reform the conventional approach to mining exploration” and “[advance] more responsible approaches to mineral exploration and development”.

Both were granted to the Pew Charitable Trusts Foundation, with offices in Philadelphia and headquartered in Washington D.C. The Pew Foundation then sent the money to Ducks Unlimited, located in Memphis. The funds then, apparently, make it to unspecified “senior leadership” of First Nations in British Columbia. The ultimate recipient of these funds, be they individual(s) or organization(s), is unclear at this time.

Pew’s website lists the purpose of the grant for $710,000 as “to protect Canada’s Boreal Forest by providing support to a key partner in the International Boreal Conservation Campaign, for a land use planning and mining policy reform initiative focused on British Columbia.”

Vancouver-based investigative journalist and researcher Vivian Krause first wrote about the Moore Foundation’s push to “reform” British Columbia’s mining sector in September 2011. In her post, Krause posed the question to readers as to whose interests these grants were serving—the First Nation’s, the Moore Foundation’s, or a common interest—and why an American foundation was assisting First Nations to get a commitment from the government of British Columbia.

It should be noted that in the Pew Foundation’s annual report for 2011, it listed $4.9 billion in assets that originated from the founders of American oil giant Sunoco, formerly known as Sun Oil. A Sunoco rival, Chevron, purchased rare earth elements giant Molycorp from Unocal in 2005 (while Molycorp has since gone public Chevron likely still has invested interest in it).

On her blog “Fair Questions,” Krause alleges that, “in various environmental campaigns in Canada, American economic and trade interests are being protected”. Through her research following the money trail, Krause has discovered that the Alaska salmon industry has targeted British Columbia’s fish farming industry for the purpose of “immobilization” via the Moore Foundation through industry-funded scientific studies and anti-farming NGOs. Krause did the same for the oilsands, following the money trail behind anti-oilsands campaigns by NGOs to American foundations funded by American oil interests.

Though it is not conclusively proven, it may be the case that the Moore Foundation’s campaign to “reform” mining in British Columbia—by attempting to sour the political climate to further mining exploration and dragging out environmental assessment processes—is to protect the burgeoning American rare earth elements mining industry. This play for the “reform” of British Columbia’s mining sector by the Moore Foundation would put it at loggerheads with Intel’s push for a “conflict-free” CPU.

By Intel’s own independent assessment, Canada is the highest rated source for rare earth elements; the only thing delaying further integration of Canadian rare earth mining companies into Intel’s supply chain is lack of capacity. Capacity can be developed, though this process is easily hindered by a political climate sour to the mining sector and an environmental review process that is “hijacked” by NGOs.

The Moore Foundation promised a response to requests for comment in May by email, but has not responded to the questions posed in the email as of June 1. The Pew Foundation has not responded to requests for comment.