What It’s Like Being a Conflict Minerals Specialist
“I go to work every day motivated by these people — and everyone who is part of this movement.”
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?” This story was shared with OZY via email.
Andreina Rojas, conflict minerals specialist, Intel Corporation
When I went to Indonesia for my first smelter visits, I learned that the country is very rich in tin — you can actually grab a handful of sand in some regions that is already 70% tin — so it has many tin smelters.
As you can imagine, a common question I get from smelters in Indonesia is “Why do I have to do this audit? Why would we import or smuggle tin from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) when we have so much of it here?” The market price of tin has fallen dramatically, so it truly doesn’t make economic sense for an Indonesian smelter to import tin. Even though we know Indonesian smelters are very low-risk for this reason, we still have to get them audited — and this is where my job gets interesting.
Just to clarify, “conflict minerals” are tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold, which are abundant in the DRC and have been used by armed groups to fund a deadly, ongoing war. Intel is able to track conflict-free tin from the DRC through the bag-and-tag system, an in-region program in the DRC that tags and gives barcodes to minerals that come from certified conflict-free mines.
While the Intel name gets me a meeting with smelters, we are not their direct customer, and it’s hard to convince someone to invest money and time in yearly audits without getting something in return. It takes establishing relationships with the smelters, speaking with them face-to-face and showing them that we are committed to this cause. Not only is this important to convince smelters to join the first time around, but to make sure they stay in the program. It also allows us to keep connections on the ground, which are important to continue our work and understand the state of the different industries. Every smelter that joins the program is a big achievement. We have seen smelters go from being absolutely opposed to joining the program, to being some of our biggest advocates. Some smelters can take years to come around, so we know to never stop working on them. One of the most exciting experiences for me was recruiting the first smelter of a specific region to join. In many cases, smelters are motivated by the fact that their competitors are getting certified. When that pressure isn’t there, it takes a lot more work to convince them.
I’ve only been at Intel for a year and a half, but it feels like much longer. During that time, I have visited smelters in the U.S., Japan, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates. I have learned so much in such a small amount of time about not only metals and industries, but about cultures and people in general. I’ve also learned to be persistent – if a smelter doesn’t answer your email, you better get creative to find a way to get in touch with them.
“You can’t be offended — I’m there to do a job and taking things like that personally will get in the way.”
In my travels, I’ve also encountered many different obstacles. First of all, I’m usually the youngest person in the room, and have also visited countries where it’s very unusual for a woman to be sitting across the table negotiating. At one of my very first meetings, someone asked me, “How is it that Intel sent a woman to do this?” You can’t be offended — I’m there to do a job and taking things like that personally will get in the way. It is important to have an open mind and be prepared for the place you are visiting. I am there to influence and convince, so I have to make sure I’m prepared to adapt to different customs and situations.
It’s very interesting and exciting work, not to mention rewarding — the job isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier when you know the quality of other people’s lives might be better because of it. Another one of my favorite things about this job is that the electronics industry truly collaborates to make a difference. In my day-to-day work, I frequently collaborate with people at other companies to establish contact with smelters and set up visits.
Being from Venezuela, I know that natural resources can be both a blessing and a curse. It is unbelievable that a country so rich in minerals can go through so much misery, yet you will meet incredible people who are proud of the DRC and will do to amazing lengths to empower their people and work to make their country better. On a personal level, I go to work every day motivated by these people — and everyone that is part of this movement.
At this year’s OZY Fest, we shared an important new documentary, Merci Congo, that examines the tragedy facing the Congo through the eyes of several impassioned activists who are struggling to bring peace to a nation that’s known only war. For more information on how you can see the film, go to www.mercicongo.com.