[ABOVE: A child slave holds an apple, c/o AntiSlavery.org.]
Mobile, not murder
Apple claims to audit materials used inside its products to make sure they aren't sourced from areas in which mass murder, rape and child slavery are part of the production process.
"In January 2014, we confirmed that all active, identified tantalum smelters in Apple’s supply chain were validated as conflict-free by third-party auditors, and we will continue to require all suppliers to use only verified tantalum sources. We know supply chains fluctuate, and we’ll maintain ongoing monitoring of our suppliers’ smelters," the report says.
Apple admits it has more work to do. Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice-president of operations, told the Financial Times that last month was the first time it was able to verify that none of the tantalum it used came from conflict regions. The company is now attempting to foster similar audits for gold, tin and tungsten suppliers by naming and shaming their compliance with ethical sourcing guidelines every three months.
In "Would you kill for your smartphone?" I stressed the need to eradicate conflict minerals from the supply chain, so I'm pleased Apple continues attempting to achieve this. It is reassuring the corporation is spending time and money to try to put in place a system that means Apple says the components used in your iPhone aren't worth killing for.
It upsets me Samsung -- which sells millions of mobile devices -- seems to lag behind in ending use of conflict minerals. All I can find is a Samsung statement that, "In the long-term, Samsung Electronics plans to set up a monitoring system to track its suppliers' use of conflict minerals."
The statement suggests that at present the company may be implicated in the existing trade in conflict minerals. Perhaps Samsung could pay Apple in order to use its auditing systems?
In contrast: "Apple is always one of the first companies to step up and show their commitment to supply chain responsibility," says Ted van der Put of IDH Sustainable Trade.
Some say abandoning use of conflict minerals would harm what little economic prosperity exists in these troubled regions.
To create a conflict free economy, Apple is attempting to help nurture conflict-free supply lines and economic development in those regions, instead of completely abandoning use of these materials. This is an attempt to create a viable supply chain for conflict-free minerals.
Surely this attempt would be boosted were Samsung to lend its weight to it?
Samsung is not alone in needing to wake up and smell the coffee of the changing consumer attitude to suffering and inequity.
That change in attitude drove consumers to rail against Apple and Foxconn when poor labor conditions inside the iPhone factories were exposed.
As part of its response, Apple moved to audit its supply chain and began publishing its Supplier Responsibility Report. That Apple publishes the report hasn't stopped critics slamming its labor history, but public opinion certainly helped make positive change.
When you purchase an item that makes use of conflict minerals, you are implicated in that conflict. Is it not ironic that these mobile devices that bring the world closer together also serve to split it further apart?
Perhaps all consumer electronics firms should make public and verifiable commitments to immediately prioritize and end use of conflict minerals.
I don't see how any reasonable person can consider a smartphone or any other consumer electronics item to be something worth killing for.
Apple clearly agrees.
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