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Be a Smart Consumer: A Guide to Responsible Holiday Shopping

Deb Miller Landau iQ Managing Editor

Our guide to adding conscientiousness to your holiday shopping list this year.

Shopping for holiday gifts is never an easy process, but as a smart consumer these days, there are extra considerations when deciding whether or not your potential gift is a great choice. The value, reputation and activities of the companies who design and manufacture the products you choose are also important factors.

Countless items ranging from computer microprocessors to jewelry are dependent on conflict minerals such as tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold, which can contribute to atrocities in areas like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Thankfully, there are companies committed to building and sustaining more responsible and transparent supply chains to better account for where their products come from and how they are made.


Look for companies publicly committed to sourcing conflict-free minerals from the DRC and implementing projects to improve the lives of people in the communities most impacted by conflict minerals.

“Consumers really can have an impact on how goods are manufactured in different parts of the world,” said Patricia Jurewicz, director of Responsible Sourcing Network. “Companies are taking steps to align their values with their customers, so they are listening to the market and taking action accordingly.”

It may not always be easy to discover the origins of the hottest new gifts or see what activities companies are involved in, so with the help of Intel’s NGO partners at Responsible Sourcing Network, RESOLVE, Jewish World Watch and Enough Project here’s a list of tips to consider while shopping this holiday season.


Research the manufacturer. Most companies are eager to talk about their good works, so visit their websites. But also, explore what social media contributors say about the company you’d like to purchase from. Consider the manufacturer’s reputation and its position in social or environmental rankings or indices, such as this conflict minerals company rankings list or Good Guide’s cell phone ratings.

Enough Project’s new Jewelry Leaders report gives consumers information on noteworthy practices of major jewelry brands and retailers. Also, note any partnering with non-profit groups.


Look deeper than the assembly facilities. Does the company’s site mention the smelters in its supply chain or the origin of minerals in its products? Check out the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI) website – is the company listed on the membership page? CFSI is a member-based organization working throughout the supply chain to ensure the flow of conflict-free minerals.

The Responsible Jewelry Council’s chain of custody program traces gold and other precious metals to the country or mine of origin.

Miner in mine Still_v2_embed

Confirm the company has put its money where its mouth is. There are a number of initiatives companies can invest in to encourage conflict-free sourcing. Check the Conflict-Free Smelter Program site to see if the manufacturer contributes to the Initial Audit Fund, which helps smelters go through their first audit.

See which jewelers, car companies, sports equipment manufacturers and others contribute resources and ideas to the Public Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade, a fund that supports certified conflict-free supply chains. Take a look at the members of the Solutions for Hope tantalum project, which, together with NGOs, visit mining communities to identify and track conflict-free sources of tantalum. Applaud – and buy – from companies willing to walk the talk.


Be vocal at the cash register. While shopping conscientiously at a brick-and-mortar store, consider that store employees may not know how to support customers looking to purchase conflict-free, or other ethically sourced, products. Share your purchasing-decision process and criteria with local store owners and employees so they can point other consumers to conflict-free products.

For example, when buying a pair of earrings, ask the sales associates in your favorite jewelry store if they know where the gold in their merchandise originates and if they have a policy that addresses conflict gold in the DRC. Your concern will sensitize them to the issue and demonstrate consumer interest.

Let companies know why you’re buying what you’re buying. Tell industry leaders that you’re buying their products because of their commitment to pursue a conflict-free supply chain and the ethical manufacturing of products.

On the flip side, don’t be afraid to share your purchasing decisions with the companies that have not been proactive on this issue, letting them know that you might reconsider if they took a different stance. Check out the Enough Project’s letter templates for writing to tech or jewelry companies about your concerns with conflict minerals.


Speak out on social media. Use the hashtags #ConflictFree and #CongoGold. Tell your friends and family what products you bought, and encourage others to support companies with transparent supply chains and ethical products. Spreading the word through your personal networks helps the people you care about become better consumers by making informed choices.

So as you head out to do your shopping, start getting curious about which products reflect the Pursuit of Conflict-Free by asking a few questions and clicking through a few websites. Support companies that care as much about human rights as you do, and let your friends know why you are endorsing them. If we are all conscious of these facts during this holiday season, it’ll be a merrier one for all of us.


Photograph of miners provided by Peyser/RESOLVE

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