Apple Claims Progress on Conflict Minerals – by Daisuke Wakabayashi (Wall Street Journal – February 11, 2015)

In an annual report on labor and environmental practices in its supply chain, Apple said it is making progress eliminating so-called conflict minerals.

The report was less definitive on other issues where Apple has been criticized, including working conditions at some suppliers, or suppliers to its suppliers, highlighting the challenge of policing a global supply chain that extends to hundreds of companies in at least 19 countries.

Apple said it had identified 225 smelters in its supply chain that handle gold, tantalum, tin or tungsten. Sales of those four minerals have been used to fund armed conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo; in Asia, they are sometimes extracted by children or rogue miners in dangerous conditions.

Apple said 135 of those smelters were audited last year to verify that they do not use materials that fund armed groups; that’s more than double the 57 smelters audited in 2013.

The company said 64 other smelters in its supply chain have agreed to participate or are currently participating in an audit, while 26 new smelters have not agreed to participate yet.

Apple contracts with private groups to conduct the audits.

Apple conducts its own audits to examine labor practices at its suppliers’ factories. In Wednesday’s report, Apple said it performed 633 audits in 2014, up 40% from the prior year. Of those, one-third were first-time audits.

The company said 92% of more than 1.1 million supplier workers it tracked per week did not work more than 60 hours a week, the standard Apple imposes on suppliers. The compliance rate was down from 95% in 2013.

Apple also said it required suppliers to reimburse nearly $4 million in excessive recruitment fees to foreign workers looking for jobs. The system has come under criticism because it puts the workers in debt before starting the job and leads to a form of bonded labor.

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