Where Apple gets the tantalum for your iPhone

“Nobody likes to think his or her iPhone was made from minerals derived from a country where warlords and mass rapists profit from the mines,” Lynnley Browning reports for Newsweek. “So a year ago, Apple made a bold claim: It had audited smelters in its supply chain and none of them used tantalum from war-torn regions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).”

“While Apple acknowledged that it could not make the same claim for gold, tin and tungsten—three other important commodities essential to modern electronics but mined in war zones—the announcement about tantalum was an important step for human rights advocates who have long called for more transparency from international companies,” Browning reports. “But how can Apple be so sure?”

“Experts note the widespread smuggling of ore across porous borders in areas racked by conflict, with scarce paper trails for ore mined by villagers in small artisanal mines in countries where warlords control exports. Moreover, audit procedures at smelters in China and Russia are opaque and vulnerable to corruption,” Browning reports. “In June 2010, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs admitted the depth of the problem in a widely disseminated email sent to a reporter at Wired magazine: ‘Until someone invents a way to chemically trace minerals from the source mine, it’s a very difficult problem.'”

Read more in the full article here.

Related articles:
Greenpeace praises Apple for reducing use of conflict minerals – February 13, 2014
Apple confirms suppliers use conflict-free minerals – February 13, 2014


  1. We in the developed (=rich) world have two choices.

    1. Buy and use our iPhones and don’t ask too many questions; if we are socially responsible, we may try and push for more transparency in tracking and reporting;

    2. Not buy iPhones (or any other electronic devices) and try to push for more transparency in tracking and reporting.

    In other words, it is more than likely that your iPhone contains materials that originated in parts of the world where warlords and rapists control the mining and profit from it. And no other electronic device is any better, and most are likely worse (with respect to the percentage of materials of such origin). The best you can do is to engage, advocate, spread the word and make others aware (either through various NGOs who work in this field, or through your government and the UN), until there is some muscle that can push back against those warlords and rapists.

    1. It is my opinion that we will maintain more influence in countries that we do trade with than in countries that we avoid.

      It has been argued that the only reason that Japan is a first world country now is because they were the 3rd world manufacturers of cheap products for the US back in the 60’s and 70’s.

      We might bring countries out of the dark ages and away from human rights violations quicker by engaging with them, than by ignoring or avoiding them. Something to consider.

      1. Your example of Japan is not quite applicable; while they were poor, recovering from the cost of the second world war (political and economic), they certainly weren’t a country run by warlords, thugs and rapists.

      2. Japan has been a first world country for centuries, including having a world class navy during WW I. Japan transitioned from making cheap goods to world class goods after WW II by embracing the teachings of W. Edwards Deming in their manufacturing processes.

        Pick examples where you have a clue.

    1. We should certainly be putting as much investment as possible in finding alternatives to oil mind, for our sake as much as anything else. Presently we seem to be financing our own self destruction as those torn lawless countries increasing export their evil.

      1. Let’s not forget, too, that there are many places in the US who would like to just cut off that foreign oil. We can handle it on our own. Prices might go up, but at least it wouldn’t put entire portions of our country out of business as is happening right now.

        *Then* work on alternatives. I’m actually all for that, even though oil is a big part of the economy where I live.

      2. Let’s get real folks. The horse and buggy will make a big comeback, wait and see.

        We will bring in Chinese immigrants to run the rickshaws.

        Don’t worry about our futures.

    2. Yes; Saudi Arabia is heads-chopping terrorism-supporting tyranny — same as ISIS/ISIL, though with better marketing since it is prime partner of Western oil companies.

      Samsun’s plastic (for phones) is made from that bloody oil.

  2. Everyone in every country has the choice to fight a corrupt system, if they chose not to, why should I care? Do they care about the constant corruption and over taxing by our government so they can give themselves big fat pay raises every year with money worked for, do they care about our corrupt law enforcement agencies who couldn’t care less about screwing over the innocent and are out for extra profit wherever they can. NO, they don’t care. Wait a minute, this is every single country in the world. If my life is better because some idiot is to much of a coward to stand up for himself, and just puts up with it year after year, good, let’s find some more morons. Life’s to short to waste my time baby sitting coward countries.

    1. That is just ignorant, extremely ignorant. What you suggest would work only if all those countries you are talking about had a functioning democracy (as it is in America, for example).

      In the places where the mineral ore needed for your iPhone is mined by children, and where mines are owned by thugs, warlords and rapists, if you say anything against that thug, warlord and rapist, you are dead in 15 minutes. It is easy not being a ‘coward’ in America, when you have your precious protection of the 1st Amendment of your constitution. Try not being a coward in the Congo, let’s see how long you will live.

      1. Look closely, Is the USA a “functioning democracy”? Think about it.

        And just for fun, how about a little not completely facetious sarcasm here . .”a country where warlords and mass rapists profit from the mines”. Consciously or not, I think this is a dream in the back of a few minds on the Right Wing of the political spectrum here.

        1. I know… Well, at least on its face, US is a functioning democracy, in that the population is rather free to vote in elections without overt intimidation, and election results are relatively transparent and thus reasonably accurate, so on its face, one could claim it is a democracy. Add to that the outsized level of pride many Americans take in their ‘most democratic of all worlds’, and the picture is pretty much complete.

          It is altogether another thing that the elections tend to be bought and sold by pummeling the electorate with obscenely simplistic messaging designed to appeal to the most uninformed masses who absorb such messages so easily and act on them without second thought. While this phenomenon certainly exists in most developed democracies of the world, there it affects only a small percentage of population(s); in America, it is how majority of votes are obtained and cast.

    2. Ok, I hear you saying; (1) When a 12-year-old girl is raped and sold into slavery by an army of thugs funded with “blood minerals,” it’s her own fault because she is a moron who has chosen that fate. (2) You are an even bigger victim than she is because your government expects you to pay for (among other services you use every day) the army and police that protect Americans from being raped, tortured, and murdered as often as the Congolese are. (3) The Congolese should be less concerned about their own troubles and more upset about your taxes. (4) If you can get your electronic gadgets cheaper with these minerals on the market, then rape and murder are good things and we need more of them.

      My reaction: (4) It is better to stay silent and let people suspect you are a heartless bastard without an ounce of human decency than to open your mouth and confirm it.

  3. Trying to pressure Apple to not take blood minerals, is like trying to yell at a tree to not take water during a drought.

    It’s not Apple’s fault. And frankly they are trying to promote transparency. The simple fact that minerals are valuable, produces an incentive to coup, rape and plunder, by the have nots. Why? They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

  4. I couldn’t care less on where the minerals come for the electronics I use.

    Apple could be transparent or not – it truly makes little difference to the majority of the people in the world.

    The same people who will come down on me are most likely wearing clothes and sneakers sewed by little kids in Malaysia and they are not up in arms over that.

    The world is a cold hard place and this is just one example of it.

  5. If some metals used were 100% recycled content, and trace mineral samples indicate that the origin point is a region that is currently war torn, however it is not clear at what time in history the material content in question was excavated.

    If it was mined 100 years ago and history shows the region was peaceful, albeit 3rd world, would that negate the regions current atrocities, speaking strictly from a metallurgical standpoint ?

    Does using recycled materials absolve the company offender of any moral or ethical transgressions?

    What if a tribesmen from a war torn region wanted to escape with his/her family to a better place and on the way back to the tribe from the river he/she finds a chunk of gold on the riverbank. he/she rushes home, gathers the family and at nightfall, clandestinely makes their way to a settlement, trades the gold for safe passage on a freight train to (a 1st world city/country) and they start a new life together safe and happy. The train conductor, who lives in same city, cashes in the gold nugget at local pawn shop and into the supply chain. Are you gonna call that gold “Blood Gold”??

    In the book “Christine”, by Stephen King – how did the car become demonic? Obviously it wasn’t the car; it was the metal in the car that was evil. Was it a byproduct of said warlord’s vengeance?

    Ok…. I’ve overstepped my point here, but you get where I’m coming from. We’re all just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

  6. Unfortunately we only think about atrocities when those countries have something we want like minerals, oil etc.
    In countries that don’t the developed world doesn’t really pay attention.

    I’m sorry I’m being so cynical but I’ve been around.
    I was in Asia years ago when a few hundred miles away in Indonesia the muslims (90% of the population of over 100 m) — over a long period 1960s till now — slaughtered (raped, killed, destroyed the villages) of thousands of non muslims (mostly ethnic Chinese , local Christians)

    (wikipedia on just one of the incidents: After the riots, there were dozens of documented accounts of ethnic Chinese women being raped;[66] the total number of mass gang-rapes may have reached 468, with 168 victims in Jakarta alone.[67] )

    wikipedia (2005: Indonesian Beheading of Christian girls…. The three teenagers were walking to a private Christian school in Central Sulawesi province with their friend Noviana Malewa, 15, when they were attacked by a group of six masked men armed with machetes. The attackers left one of the girls’ heads outside a church.)

    My friends in Singapore said you can hear people in Indonesia begging for help on the phone as they were surrounded — before the phones went dead .

    But there wasn’t much stuff in Indonesia etc that the west wanted so it doesn’t even register. (Honestly how many of you have heard of thousands of non muslims, locals and overseas Chinese being killed, abused etc in Indonesia?)

    And in Cambodia the Khmer rouge killed half the population.

    In other incidents I have seen refugee boats landing on a beach. Where I was the tourist beaches were closed as there were too many dead bodies floating around.

    Even advocacy groups don’t really care or can’t act– they get MONEY from fund raisers when they go after mineral countries because they get PUBLICITY from attacking companies like Apple (more publicity more donations.) Most advocacy groups don’t want to bother with say the plight of Javanese christians as there’s no ‘hook’ for donations. The few groups who do because they don’t get donations i.e money have little voice as they no money for publicity and make zero impact . Western press never take those stories seriously as without catch phrases like ‘oil, minerals, Apple etc’ there is no hype or reader interest.

    Again sorry for being cynical but that’s the reality of it.


    When I was a kid (before I moved to N. America) the army and police went on a rampage against the people of my ethnic minority , they killed 500 people to ‘teach us a lesson’ . The girl who was my wife had to sleep with her shoes on as she never knew when she had to run. I didn’t see much as I was too small and there was a curfew but i could see smoke from my rooftop. The REASON for the attacks? My ethnic group (minority) had the ‘boldness’ to win a few seats in a local election and the majority ethnic group — muslim — controlled 99.9% of the army and police weren’t happy. After that the electoral districts were re -drawn (muslim areas sub divided so that had more ‘elected’ officials) so that muslims would always forever have control and that was that. (It’s interesting that muslims complain a lot about their rights in Western countries but they never talk about what happens to non- muslims in the muslim countries… )

    Again no advocacy group, foreign groups really gave much thought about the incidents I experienced.

    1. I hear you that atrocities anywhere in the world deserve our attention. The events you describe elsewhere in the world are deplorable. But I also think that moving the bar forward even toward groups such as Muslims (let’s grant them singularity for the moment), who in power don’t respond in kind, is a big part of the appeal of western liberalism, our most potent force against radicalism and failed states. Even our concern for mineral sourcing falls into this. I don’t think it’s a problem that these hit pieces are a distraction, we read them because they concern us.

      1. i get you.

        thinking about it, many of the problems don’t affect the west and the in a way rightfully aren’t aware of it but as the west uses minerals etc they pay more attention (I can accept that)

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