Under pressure from human rights groups, the technology giant Apple has decided to take some steps forward, the constitution of a clean supply chain, by asking its suppliers for verified conflict-free materials like tantalum.
This metal, along with tin, tungsten and gold, is frequently used in many electronic industries. Such substances are frequently known as “conflict minerals”: they are mined in areas such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) where their extraction often benefits armed groups associated with human rights violations.
In its eighth annual supply-chain report, Apple confirmed that its hardware factories will “continue to require all suppliers to use only verified tantalum sources”, and promised to continue with monitoring its suppliers’ materials.
However, Apple’s policy suggests that a total ban is not the way to go. They said that “rather than avoiding minerals from the DRC and neighboring countries entirely, we’re supporting verified supply lines and economic development in the region”. They believe that the best way to counter the human rights abuses on the ground is “to have a critical mass of smelters verified as conflict-free, so that demand for the mineral supply from questionable sources is affected.” Thus Apple has announced that it will push its suppliers of tin, tungsten, and gold to use verified and conflict-free sources instead of avoiding them all together.
This decision can be the first step towards major changes in the worldwide technology industry and might push other companies to do the same – or even more. Last month, for example, Intel announced that it would no longer use conflict minerals in its microprocessors.
While this sounds like a good beginning, in an age where products are invented and produced like bread, one is left to wonder if naming and shaming a few suppliers is really the best policy that companies such as Apple can implement. However, this will certainly start to redeem Apple’s public image and drive what they call “real change”: they may have realized that their responsibility towards people has become nearly as important as the products they offer to them.