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Apple Reports Progress in Eliminating 'Conflict Minerals' From Its Devices

Audits of smelters and refiners continue.


Apple said it has made some progress in ensuring its devices are free of any minerals pulled from mines whose profits are funneled to warlords in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a filing Thursday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Companies are required to release an annual report of so-called conflict minerals — the tungsten, tin, tantalum and gold commonly found in electronics that have been mined from the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring countries. The proceeds from some of these mines are used to fund armed groups associated with murder, rape and other human rights violations in the war-torn region.

Apple can’t yet claim that its products are entirely free of conflict materials, because not all of its suppliers have completed the audit process and been verified.

“The simplest path to calling Apple products conflict-free would be to redirect our demand through a small subset of smelters that are either conflict-free verified, or aren’t sourcing from Central Africa,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s senior vice president of operations, in a separate supplier report published Wednesday. “But this approach would do little to influence the situation on the ground.”

Apple reported the number of conflict-free smelters and refiners in its supply chain has more than doubled in the past year. More than 88 percent have either successfully completed audits or have begun the process, it said. Four smelters and refiners that refused to engage in the process were notified of their termination.

The process of vetting is both time-consuming and expensive. Apple said it began to investigate the use of these materials in 2009 and became one of the first companies to map its supply chain to the smelter or refiner level. The company also publishes a list of its smelters and and refiners.

Of the 233 smelters and refiners that furnished these minerals used in Apple products last year, 24 were from the Democratic Republic of Congo or adjoining countries. Twenty-one were determined to be conflict-free; one is no longer operational, and another is preparing to be audited. Apple is requiring suppliers to remove the final refiner from its supply chain. (Apple notes it doesn’t have evidence to suggest these smelters or refiners were funding armed groups, only that they had not been verified as conflict-free.)

Apple is a member of the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative, a voluntary group created in 2009 that uses independent, third-party auditors to vet smelters for the sources of potential conflict minerals.

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