Apple and Intel have agreed to stop using conflict minerals in the manufacturing of their products, as part of a tech industry initiative to avoid possible controversy in light of federal regulators’ efforts to ensure ethical global manufacturing, reported Kat Asharya of Mobiledia.com (April 5).
“As part of the Conflict-Free Smelter program, participating tech companies must provide third-party verification that their processors don’t contain commonly used minerals that fund armed conflicts in Central Africa, specifically the Democratic Republic of Congo,” she wrote. “Minerals from Central Africa commonly sourced for tech components include gold, titanium, tungsten and tin; the DRC provides 5 percent of the world’s tin supply, as well as 14 percent of tantalum.”
Asharya explains the initiative is a preemptive measure to align tech companies before federal regulation of mineral sourcing begins next year. It also allows Apple and Intel to mitigate future controversy on the matter.
The move makes sense for Apple, she adds, as the company has been previously criticized – along with numerous other tech companies – on corporate responsibility issues, specifically around sustainability and global worker conditions.
“Early this year, Chinese environmentalists criticized Apple after employees at one of its Taiwan-based suppliers became sick from chemicals used in the touch screens of its iPhone and iPad devices. The company ranked last in responsiveness to inquiries on working conditions at Asian suppliers among a new list of 29 multinational corporations, which was compiled by three dozen Chinese environmental groups.”
Apple suppliers reportedly helped workers pay for treatment, Asharya adds, but the damage to the company’s public image was already widespread.
Other highlights from Asharya’s report include:
- Apple and other tech companies have faced child labor issues by parts suppliers in China.
- The Conflict-Free Smelter program reflects the increasingly high standards that consumers demand from their favorite brands.
- As tech manufacturing becomes increasingly globalized, it becomes more difficult to police all parts of the chain. Bloomberg reported (April 1) that Central African miners are scrambling to find new, less scrupulous buyers.
- Two electronics industry organizations (the Global e-Sustainability Initiative and the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition) jointly launched their Conflict-Free Smelter program in late 2010, in response to the conflict provisions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.
“The idea (behind the upcoming legislation) is to shine a light on the minerals supply chain and create transparency that currently does not exist,” said Darren Fenwick, Senior Manager of Government Affairs at the Enough Project, a Washington-based campaign and prominent voice on Congo, as quoted by Jon Rosen of GlobalPost.com (April 4).