Apple to name and shame its own 'conflict mineral' suppliers

Apple Inc

Tech industry under pressure to stop using minerals supplied by violent militias in Africa

LAST UPDATED AT 12:53 ON Thu 13 Feb 2014

APPLE is planning to use 'name and shame' tactics in a bid to force its suppliers to comply with ethical sourcing guidelines. 

The company wants its iPhones, iPads and other devices to be free of "conflict minerals", which are mined in areas of armed conflict or where human rights abuses take place.

Last month, it verified for the first time that none of the tantalum used in its products had come from mines in conflict regions. Now it wants to clean-up the gold, tin and tungsten supply chain.

It will therefore publish a quarterly list of all of its suppliers' smelters – which produce the metals used in Apple devices – and their compliance with ethical sourcing guidelines.

It comes as the electronics industry faces growing criticism from human rights organisations over its extensive use of minerals mined from sites controlled by violent militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo and nearby areas.

These mineral resources finance the armed groups, many of which use murder and rape as a strategy to control local populations and secure the control of mines, say campaigners. Miners are often hired by gun-point and forced to work in life-threatening conditions.

Jeff Williams, Apple's senior vice-president of operations, told the Financial Times that the fastest way for the company to become "conflict-free" would be to limit its supply chain to just a couple of verified smelters.

However, he said this would do nothing to affect the wider situation for workers on the ground. "What we are focused on is getting a critical mass of suppliers verified such that we can truly influence the demand situation and change things," he said.

Williams added that it was easier for electronic companies to put pressure on unethical tantalum suppliers, as more than half of the world's tantalum flows through the electronics industry.

However, electronics companies are relatively small customers when it comes to tin, tungsten and gold. Apple hopes that by using the glare of public scrutiny for these minerals, it will encourage wider change. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.