Why are iPhones so important

Our cell phones consist of many different raw materials that are required for the production of electronic components. A number of metals, such as tantalum, cobalt or copper, are particularly important. Cobalt is required for high-performance batteries, for example. One country that has an abundance of such mineral resources is the Congo. Many locals work in cobalt mines, often in devastating working conditions. Tantalum, which is required for the production of high-performance capacitors, is also mined in large quantities in the Congo.

The Congo could be the richest country in Africa because of its natural resources. In reality, however, the country sinks again and again into violence and flare-up unrest. Mismanagement, corruption and civil wars make the Central African country one of the poorest countries in the world. To this day, the raw materials lead to major conflicts between population groups, rebel leaders, the state, the military, western companies and the neighboring states. Productive areas are fiercely contested. This makes economic interests the mainspring for armed conflicts in the Congo.

But would it be possible for companies like Apple to do without minerals from conflict regions altogether? And what makes controlling supplier supply chains so difficult for companies like Apple?

What has changed in terms of raw materials?

Up to 30 different, rare metals are required to manufacture [a smartphone], some of which are mined under inhumane conditions. Corresponding mines are mainly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where armed conflicts with the sale of rare earths have been financed for years and people have been forced to mine in the mines. In addition, there is a high level of environmental pollution. In the meantime, almost all large companies are making efforts to ensure production under more humane conditions. However, compliance with the relevant requirements is often not adequately checked.

In 2014, the iPhone manufacturer Apple announced that it would in future forego raw materials that were extracted in conflict regions. That was not entirely voluntary, but rather the implementation of a law from 2010. The so-called Dodd-Frank Act requires US companies that are listed on the stock exchange to prove the origin of critical raw materials and to ensure that they are not in conflict areas be promoted in the Congo.

The so-called EU Conflict Minerals Regulation, which [came into force] on January 1st, 2020, prescribes something similar. Like the Dodd-Frank Act, the EU regulation only refers to the four raw materials classified as conflict minerals, tungsten, gold, tin and tantalum. It does not apply to any other raw material. [...]

The EU Conflict Minerals Regulation, on the other hand, will apply directly to companies that import the minerals and metals in question into the EU as primary raw materials, regardless of where they come from. Johanna Sydow is critical of what sounds conscientiously reassuring: “Initially, the ordinance only applies to four of around 30 raw materials that are in such a telephone - but there are also human rights violations with many other minerals. So far there is no duty of care at all with these. ”In addition, says Sydow, the extraction of raw materials is only part of the problem. The final production of the devices often takes place in countries in which particularly low labor law standards apply.

Tanja Brandes, Smart but fair, Frankfurter Rundschau, May 26, 2019

Declaration of the Apple group on its homepage for the selection and control of the supplier companies: