Apple’s quarterly smelters list identifies suppliers who have no known or public Conflict-Free Smelter Program (CFSP) Participation and offers a window into where the minerals in our phones come from.
As we march towards a brighter more affordable tomorrow, full of seamlessly integrated wearable technology and ever more realistic and engaging entertainment, it’s easy to overlook the hidden costs.
Many of the minerals used in the production of this technology are often obtained from conflict strewn parts of the world, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, where profits can contribute to the instability of the region.
In a move that will put pressure on companies to better comply with ethical conduct, Apple has started to publicize which of its suppliers may be sourcing minerals from conflict zones. Its Quarterly Smelters List details 104 suppliers that were unverified for compliance with ethical guidelines. It also highlights 59 smelters that were compliant.
“The ethical sourcing of minerals is an important part of our mission to ensure safe and fair working conditions,” Apple wrote in its annual Supplier Responsibility Report. “In January 2014 we confirmed that all active, identified tantalum smelters in our supply chain were verified as conflict-free by third party auditors, and we’re pushing our suppliers of tin, tungsten, and gold just as hard to use verified sources.”
Bandi Mbubi, director of Congo Calling, a campaign group calling for greater transparency in the sourcing of minerals told the BBC yesterday that Apple’s announcement was to be applauded. “What we want is the whole industry to start transforming the way they do their business,” he said. “The way Apple has gone, even though it is not 100%, is something that is quite encouraging.”
I had a chance to catch up with Mbubi recently. He underlined the need for action in all areas of technology not just Apple’s products. I asked him how video-game consoles fit into this picture. “If you are using any console make sure you know that your company is using conflict free minerals. Write to them to say I want you to only buy conflict free minerals. Then Nintendo will know that their consumers only want them to use conflict free materials. The more people that write to their technology company the better. At some point we will have products that are completely conflict free.”
The interview was shortly after Mbubi’s emotionally charged TED published talk that called for the audience to reassess how they chose technology. Unusually though, this was not a plea to stop buying new smartphones but to use them as a part of the solution, to get the message out about conflict minerals.
Intel also recently announced that it wouldn’t use conflict minerals in its microprocessors. It seems likely that other companies my family buy technology from will also have something to say on the matter as a law passed in 2010 gave companies until May 2014 to start reporting the source of its raw materials.
Mbubi told the BBC that he hoped the moves from Apple and Intel would spark a race for other technology companies to show they too were taking action.
[Image Credit: CC Flickr/grassrootsgroup]