Three and a half years ago, Enough and Campus Progress (now known as Generation Progress) protested the opening of Apple’s prestigious new store in Georgetown, Washington, DC because it was lagging behind other companies on combating the trade in conflict minerals from eastern Congo. Today, such a protest would be unnecessary. Apple released its annual Supplier Responsibility report yesterday, and the company is making some significant strides on conflict minerals.
Apple is turning around on conflict minerals, and its new steps on conflict-free smelters mark concrete progress that other tech and industrial companies should follow. Apple can go further by sourcing clean minerals from eastern Congo, which would help Congolese miners.
Here are some notable achievements from the report:
Apple published the names of all of the smelters that it uses. Apple was the first company to publish the number of smelters in its supply chain in 2011, and since then HP, SanDisk, and Philips have gone further to publish the names of their smelters. Publishing the names puts pressure on the non-compliant smelters to get audited under the Conflict-Free Smelter Program.
The company announced that it only uses audited conflict-free smelters for one mineral: tantalum. Making sure all of its thousands of suppliers only source from those minerals takes a major effort, so hats off to the company. Following Intel’s announcement of a fully conflict-free product in January, Apple’s conflict-free tantalum is a helpful step. The company could go further by sourcing from conflict-free smelters for all four minerals.
Apple is now supporting the development of a clean minerals trade in Congo through support to four different projects: the Public-Private Alliance on Responsible Minerals Trade, or PPA, the Conflict-Free Tin Initiative, or CFTI, mines at Nyabibwe, Solutions for Hope, and the Kemet Partnership for Social and Economic Sustainability.
Activists across the U.S., together with Enough and our Raise Hope for Congo campaign, have been active with Apple, supporting the Change.org petition by Congolese activist Delly Mawazo Sesete in 2011 to get Apple to produce a fully conflict-free product that includes certifiably clean minerals from Congo. That petition gained over 71,000 signatures.
Apple’s achievements mean even more because of the size of the company — it's now the largest company in the world at over $480 billion. That means more influence on suppliers and smelters and more opportunities for future change.
Going forward, it is critical that other companies send strong signals to their suppliers that they should only buy from conflict-free smelters. Industrial manufacturers, jewelry retailers, tool companies, and others should communicate with their suppliers and set deadlines.
Second, the governments of the Great Lakes region – Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, and others – should finalize the regional minerals certification process for conflict minerals, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, or ICGLR. U.S. Special Envoy Russ Feingold can help urge those governments to take action.
What Apple can do now:
Work further with suppliers and smelters so that all of its products are only sourced from conflict-free smelters. That would pave the way to make conflict-free products.
Build on its work in Congo. If more clean minerals supply chains like Solutions for Hope were set up, Congolese communities would have more economic opportunities, and warlords would have fewer. Apple could further support projects like Solutions for Hope or develop its own conflict-free closed-pipe supply chains and accompanying community initiatives like livelihoods programs, especially for gold.