Microsoft Extends Ethical, Environmental Policies to Supply Chain

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Microsoft has formalized its policies regarding how the tech giant sources materials for its hardware and packaging, announced Brian Tobey, the company's corporate vice president of Manufacturing, Supply Chain and Information Services.

Characterized as a "natural evolution" of Microsoft's Supplier Social and Environmental Accountability program, the new policy, called "Microsoft's Responsible Sourcing of Raw Materials," aims to align its supplier network with the company's codes of conduct regarding environmental and ethical issues. "We are extending our positive influence to the furthest reaches of our upstream supply chain—all the way to harvested and extracted materials," stated Tobey in a blog post.

In recent years, major technology companies have expanded on their efforts to minimize their environmental impact and purge their supply chains of raw materials from war zones. Used in the manufacture of electronic devices, these "conflict minerals" are mined from the Democratic Republic of Congo and often fund conflicts that have ravaged the region.

Apple, under CEO Tim Cook's leadership, is striving to derive 100 percent of its power from renewable sources. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company, maker of the best-selling iPad tablet and popular iPhone, has pledged to remove conflict minerals from its supply chains.

Microsoft expects its suppliers to reflect the company's stance on sustainability and the ethical treatment of workers. "Throughout our supply chain, we are committed to empowering people to do their best while preserving and sustainably using resources and upholding human rights, safety and business ethics," said Tobey.

The software company's new sourcing policy "requires 100 percent identification of all materials used in its packaging and hardware to the component level." Microsoft added that its efforts to keep conflict minerals out of its supply chain and products include imposing the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) upstream tracing guidelines, audits of conflict-free smelters and refiners, and supporting the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade (PPA) and ITRI Tin Supply Chain Initiative (ITSCi).

Microsoft wants its supply partners on the same page. "We expect our upstream suppliers to engage in similarly robust due diligence activities," states the policy.

On the environmental front, Microsoft said that it works closely with its "upstream supply chain and partners to build the raw material supplier capabilities" that meet the company's sustainability goals. Further, the company is investing "in programs to increase suppliers' capabilities and provide them with platforms to exchange best practices with their industry peers."

Transparency is a given, said Tobey. Signaling that his company is ready to be put under the microscope, he noted that Microsoft has shared its list of suppliers since 2013 and that its Corporate Citizenship Report describes details of its practices, including the company's efforts to maintain "a conflict minerals-free electronic supply chain."

Those efforts extend to Wall Street. "We will share additional details on our conflict minerals program in future Securities and Exchange Commission disclosures," added Tobey.