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Apple Joins Tech Companies Cracking Down on Conflict Minerals

Image credit: Apple

Today, Apple released its latest Supplier Responsibility report, covering a range of social and environmental issues, according to Apple Insider

Of note, the company says it will reveal the names and certification status of all minerals suppliers in an effort to eliminate the use of "conflict minerals."

In the tech giant’s eighth annual report, Apple says it enforced its strict Supplier Code of Conduct through 451 audits, training and education throughout 2013. According to the report, the company’s suppliers achieved an average 95 percent compliance rate with the maximum 60-hour work week, often a bone of contention for human rights groups that come down hard on Chinese labor practices. That number is up from 92 percent a year ago.

Apple also pledges to increase its vigilance in the area of minerals sourcing, particularly the four "conflict minerals" — gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum — minerals native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the sale of which has helped fund fighting in the region for years. Already making headway, Apple reveals it has newly validated its tantalum supply chain as "conflict-free.”

From the 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. To heighten smelter accountability and help stakeholders follow our progress, we are releasing, for the first time, a list of the smelters and refiners in our supply chain along with their verification status.”

Apple SVP of Operations Jeff Williams told the Financial Times last month that January was the first time the company was able to verify that all of the tantalum used in its devices — for capacitors and resistors — came from non-conflict zones.

While the electronics industry is responsible for over half of the world's tantalum consumption, it is not a major player in the use of tin, tungsten and gold, meaning actions from companies like Apple will have little impact on smelters of those minerals. Apple will instead use its high-profile brand to spotlight suppliers' smelters in a quarterly report (PDF download), noting which firms do or do not comply with "ethical sourcing guidelines."

The first list shows 59 compliant smelters to date, and another 23 that are part of the Conflict-Free Smelter Program, which leaves 104 left to verify.

"We think it has the chance to make a difference," Williams said. "The smelters are a choke point where all this flows through. If we can get as many smelters verified [as possible] through this pressure, then we have a real chance of influencing the various activities on the ground."

In response to the release of Apple's report, Greenpeace Energy Campaigner Tom Dowdall said: "Apple's increased transparency about its suppliers is becoming a hallmark of Tim Cook's leadership at the company. Apple has flexed its muscles in the past to push suppliers to remove hazardous substances from products and provide more renewable energy for data centers, and it is proving the same model can work to reduce the use of conflict minerals. Samsung and other consumer electronics companies should follow Apple's example and map its suppliers, so the industry can exert its collective influence to build devices that are better for people and the planet."

In his pre-show keynote at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last month, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said Intel had achieved a critical milestone and the minerals used in its microprocessor silicon and packages are "conflict-free" as concluded by third-party audits or direct validation. On the heels of that announcement, Krzanich extended a challenge to the entire electronics industry to join Intel in becoming “conflict-free.” 


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