Apple makes progress in cutting use of conflict minerals

Refiners and smelters that don't undergo an audit will be removed from Apple's supply chain

Apple is making progress in eliminating the use of materials that are linked to militant groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and neighboring countries.

Since 2012 the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has required companies that use tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold in their products to issue a yearly report disclosing whether the minerals were obtained from Central African nations. In some cases, the profits from selling those materials, which have been given the name conflict minerals, can benefit warlords, rebels and other criminal organizations.

These minerals are found in many tech products, including Apple's iPhone, iPad, Mac computers and Apple TV.

"Conflict-free" materials are those which are not linked to warlords or criminal organizations.

Apple requires the refiners and smelters it uses to undergo an audit to ensure that they are sourcing conflict-free minerals. This process allows Apple to continue using Central African suppliers, it said. The auditing guidelines are developed by the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative, a voluntary group that Apple belongs to. It uses third-party auditors to review the sources of minerals used at smelters and refineries.

Apple has made gains in its efforts to use only conflict-free minerals in its products, according to a filing released by the SEC on Thursday. Of the 225 companies Apple uses, 135 are conflict-free and 64 have started the audit process. The remaining 26 companies must begin the audit or face getting booted from Apple's supply chain. Last year Apple stopped working with three refiners and smelters that refused to conduct an audit.

The 135 conflict-free suppliers Apple worked with in 2014 is more than three times 2013's total, which came in at 35.

Apple works with 24 refiners or smelters from Central Africa. Of that figure, 21 suppliers use conflict-free minerals, one has closed and another is readying for an audit. The remaining refiner hasn't undergone an audit and is being removing from Apple's supply chain.

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'connor@idg.com

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