Apple has removed 12 smelters and refiners from its supply chain for failing to pass human rights and minerals standards, it told the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in a Feb. 9 filing.
It’s the seventh year in a row that the corporation has required the smelters and refiners that provide and process the minerals that go into its products to go through a third-party audit for responsible sourcing practices. By the end of last year, all suppliers left in its supply chain had participated in the audit and passed it, the corporation says in the filing; those that did not were removed from the supply chain.
In 2021, that was 12—in the past, these numbers have varied: In 2020, the corporation removed 7, in 2019, it removed 18. The audits are part of an endeavor to weed out what are called ‘conflict minerals’ from its supply chain.
“At Apple, our respect for human rights begins with our commitment to treating everyone with dignity and respect,” the company said in the filing, signed by Katherine Adams, general counsel and secretary. “We’ve embedded respect for human rights across our company—in the technology we make, in the way we make it, and in how we treat people.”
The company lauds its human rights policy in the filing. But the annual audits are also required by the federal government: In 2012, the SEC adopted a rule requiring U.S. corporations to report their attempts to determine the source of their tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold that originated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) or an adjoining country. These four minerals are known as conflict, or ‘3TG’ minerals, and, historically, income derived from the trading of these minerals has been used to finance armed conflict by troops in the DRC and nearby nations.
The company has removed 163 smelters and refiners from its supply chain since 2009: 9 tantalum, 50 tin, 19 tungsten, and 85 gold, it said in the filing. As of the end of 2021, it had 253 smelters in its supply chain that it found “no reasonable basis for concluding that …. It had directly or indirectly financed or benefited armed groups in the DRC or an adjoining country,” per the release. (This language is intentionally broad, trade blog Apple Insider pointed out Thursday, because audits only go so far, and the company likely does not want to claim 100 percent certainty.) 30 of the 253 were known to be sourcing from the DRC or a nearby country.
The audits extend to all parts of the supply chain for all Apple products: iPhones and Macs, Apple Watches, Apple Cards, Apple TVs, iPod touches, HomePods, Beats products, and associated accessories. As part of the process, the company has third-party companies identify risks at the mining, refining and smelting stages of mineral production, which “identify risks” and analyze grievances that NGOs, companies, and members of the public submit about the company’s mineral supply chain.
“We engage with and support a broad range of multi stakeholder and community initiatives, including support for human rights and environmental defender organizations as well as whistleblower initiatives to empower independent, local voices to raise issues and report incidents at the mining level,” the company said in the filing. “Input from these stakeholders contributes to our robust due diligence program and drives industry-wide progress.”