Apple promises to stop using conflict minerals, but isn’t sure how

20 Apr 2017

Person mining coltan ore in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Image: Nada B/Shutterstock

Apple is doubling down on its efforts to end the harmful practice of sourcing precious materials from mining, but admits it doesn’t know how yet.

While smartphones have ushered in a new era of communication for much of the world, the sourcing of the rare Earth minerals used to create many of their components are far from beneficial to the world.

Last year, Amnesty International accused tech’s biggest companies – including Apple, Sony and Samsung – of allowing underage labour within mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Meanwhile, the toll of the environmental damage is still being calculated as towns in China are being choked by graphite used in the production of smartphone components.

Apple, which was previously accused of contributing to these practices, is promising to end its reliance on ‘conflict minerals’ and create a ‘closed-loop supply chain’.

In its 2017 Environmental Responsibility Report, Apple is promising that its products will be entirely free of minerals mined from the Earth.

This includes a call for its customers to recycle their old devices through the company’s specified programme, or through its Liam recycling robots, which pick apart phones to harvest components.

While this doesn’t equate to a totally closed supply chain free from such minerals, Apple told Vice that it will achieve it one day.

‘We’re a little nervous’

The only problem is, however, that it is still unsure how exactly it is going to do it.

“We’re actually doing something we rarely do, which is announce a goal before we’ve completely figured out how to do it,” said Apple’s vice-president of environment, policy and social initiatives, Lisa Jackson.

“So we’re a little nervous, but we also think it’s really important, because as a sector we believe it’s where technology should be going.”

Other efforts to cut mining out altogether are already underway as Apple tries to disassociate itself with third-party suppliers using unethical mining, with the company’s own regular audits.

Otherwise, Apple appears to be doing quite well, claiming that its facilities now run on 96pc renewable energy, marking a 3pc increase on last year.

Person mining coltan ore in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Image: Nada B/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic