How Intel Gets Social Responsibility Just Right

Rick Wartzman
Rick Wartzman

In his latest online column for Time magazine, Drucker Institute Executive Director Rick Wartzman writes about how Intel is now “manufacturing and shipping only ‘conflict-free’ microprocessors—that is, computer chips devoid of minerals that come from those mines that pass their profits on to warlords” in the eastern Congo and other violence-ravaged parts of Africa.

“At a most basic level,” Wartzman writes, “Intel’s initiative is a reminder that businesses do not exist in a vacuum and that many of their everyday decisions ripple far out into the world—a notion that [Peter] Drucker spelled out in The Practice of Management, long before the term ‘social responsibility’ first came into fashion.”

Some observers, Wartzman notes, “have dismissed Intel’s efforts,” pointing out that it has been “motivated, at least in part, by a 2010 law that requires companies to publicly disclose whether their products contain conflict minerals.” Intel and others, they say, fear bad publicity.

“But so what?” Wartzman asks. “If customers care about this issue—and I sure hope they do—then what is wrong with trying to give them what they value in this regard? What’s the problem with using ‘conflict free’ as a marketing advantage?”

“The ideal approach,” Drucker declared, “is to make the elimination of impacts into a profitable business opportunity.”

Concludes Wartzman: “If Intel attracts customers as a result” of its action, “that should be a cause for celebration, not cynicism.”