HP’s steps

Now I like HP, well, at least I like them the best out of any of the computer companies I have had the (dis)pleasure of having dialogue with. HP and I had a rocky start as I tried to get to someone who could tell me what I needed to know.

Now that I have found that person, the Product Content Manager, things have gone much more smoothly. She has been forthcoming in answering my questions as directly as possible, even when it implicates the imperfections in their own system, and not trying to skirt around the issues with other faulty claims. I can respect this, because at least it means they are being somewhat forthcoming with me and are actively pursuing some answers from their own suppliers. At least I have a better chance of getting to the truth. I would be more likely to buy from them than any other computer company at this point simply for the direct way in which they have responded to me.

I have been told that HP is an active participant in the EICC/GeSI Extractives Working group which is initiating a project this year to develop supply chain transparency models for cobalt, tin and tantalum. This is a positive step (but not yet enough). Several other companies are also on board with this initiative. (see http://www.gesi.org/files/20080620_ghgm_ser_metalstoelectronics.pdf)

I was given information by HP on the specific suppliers that I questioned in my previous emails to them (Kemet and Hitachi) and was told they have assurances from these companies that they are now using conflict-free resources in the form of Letters of Certification for the source of the materials. I was only able to access this information because they allowed their suppliers to be scruitinized and allowed me to look into slightly deeper than other companies into their supply chain. This is great step and means that they are actually trying to get some answers from their suppliers and are actually willing to work with the public to allow some level of scruitiny.

Do I believe their suppliers’ claims to them? No, I most definitely do not. Especially since the two suppliers that I specificially questioned HP about were implicated in a UN report for major human rights abuses less than 10 years ago and have yet to be charged or investigated further for these abuses. No one has yet to be held accountable for the past abuses, and no real structure has been put into place that I can ascertain to prevent them from happening again in the future.

Letters of Certification are not enough, especially since the metal market is so complicated. As the 2008 report Social and Environmental Responsibility in Metals Supply to the Electronic Industry details, “The metals market can be understood by analogy to a pool of water that is being fed by many streams. Numerous sources, including primary and recycled metal producers, supply the metals market, which is a global commodity pool that circulates and mixes freely. At the same time, numerous buyers withdraw from the pool, often not distinguishing source other than on price. Within the metal pool, metal is metal, where one unit of atoms is substitutable for another.”

If this is the case, there is a long way to go to prevent the metals from entering our electronics devices. Hopefully some sort of structure will be put in place to stop these abuses that goes beyond a voluntary basis. These are human rights abuses that are against the law and should be stopped. Resource extraction is one of the main incentives to war and bloody massacres, slavery and abuse happen for this purpose. There is no reason that these structures should not be mandated by international and national laws. Companies should not be allowed to disregard or sidestep legalities because the system is complicated or because they use suppliers in different countries or are disconnected from their own product line. The law is the law, and companies that break the laws should be punished, especially if they are doing so in full knowledge and making no real steps to change.

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