We rarely think about the origin of the valuable components inside the items we use every day. Our smart phones, computers and tablets are made up of tin, gold, and other minerals that come from a parts of the world where conflict affects the mining and trading of those materials.To put it bluntly, in some areas, like the Congo, workers are hired at gun-point, and forced to work in extreme conditions.
Like other commodities, in which goods are extracted through questionable means, (diamonds, chocolate, even cotton) the industry is called to obtain their materials in the best possible circumstances, with as little risk to human life as possible.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, for the first time, imposed a requirement for manufacturers to file conflict minerals reports. The deadline was June 2nd, and the reports varied greatly in detail and clarity. As The Guardian reports, "Some tech giants that have taken a lead on this issue - such as Intel, HP and Apple - filed in-depth reports last week. Meanwhile others, including Herman Miller, Soda Stream, and Oracle, can best be described as vague."
As part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, U.S. companies are required to report whether they use conflict minerals - raw materials like gold, tungsten, tantalum and tin - from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and neighboring war-torn countries. It calls for transparency from consumer electronics companies, who must now examine and reveal their global supply chain.
Apple was one of the first to reveal their conflict mineral information in a Supplier Responsibility Report earlier this year. Their new filing, goes into more detail.
From a Slate.com report;
In 2013, Apple used 205 smelters, 21 of which got metals from the Democratic Republic of Congo—a country whose economy has been complicated and obscured by civil war. Four of the 21 DRC smelters have not yet been verified by third-party auditors as conflict-free.
HP reports that of 201 smelters it could identify in its supply chain, 60 are accredited. HP took steps to evaluate the other smelters and encourage them to improve their compliance, but in 2014 they will be continuing to "further mitigate risk and improve due diligence."
Meanwhile, as Bloomberg reports, Intel has a five-person team working with smelters and tracing the money that goes through them. Intel reported an 83 percent response rate on surveys it sent to smelters. The company can find 158 smelters associated with its supply chain, 71 of which are certified conflict-free. As the initiative has gained recognition it has begun to spread to other companies.
It all goes too deep to expect consumers to research where these materials come from. But reporting requirements may eventually set all our minds at ease. According to the reports filed, we still have a long way to go to be confident that the phone in the palm of our hand, didn't come from the result of innocent deaths.
To understand more about conflict minerals, Source Intelligence offers this infographic:
For the full articles quoted in this story go to Slate.com and TheGuardian.com http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/05/30/apple_hp_and_intel_have_reported_their_sources_for_conflict_minerals_to.html