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23 May, 2024 10:03

African state targets Apple over ‘blood minerals’ claims

DR Congo lawyers accuse the US tech giant of selling technology that uses illegally sourced minerals from a conflict region
African state targets Apple over ‘blood minerals’ claims

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) is considering legal action against US tech giant Apple if it fails to respond to questions about its mineral supply chain in the Central African country, lawyers representing the DR Congo said on Wednesday.

Lawyers from Washington-based Amsterdam & Partners LLP and Bourdon & Associes in Paris said they wrote to Apple’s US parent company and its French subsidiaries on April 22 demanding answers about whether the firm was sourcing metals for its products from conflict areas in eastern DR Congo.

A three-week deadline for response has passed, and the “tech giant has remained silent and neither answered nor even acknowledged receipt of the questions,” the legal team claimed in a statement.

“The absence of a response is an implicit admission that the questions we asked Apple were relevant,” William Bourdon, one of the lawyers, said.

The DR Congo is the world’s leading producer of cobalt, a key component in batteries used in most consumer electronics, including mobile phones and electric vehicles.

The country has been plagued by decades of violence, particularly in the east, linked to dozens of armed groups, including M23 militants, who are fighting the government for resources.

On April 25, Amsterdam & Partners LLP published a report claiming that several companies and armed groups were smuggling minerals mined in the former Belgian colony out through Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi, where they are laundered and “integrated into the global supply chain.”

According to the legal firm, major technology companies such as Apple, Intel, Sony, and Motorola have been informed that the metals purchased from Rwanda were acquired from the DR Congo in a “context of violent exploitation.”

Robert Amsterdam, founding partner of Amsterdam & Partners LLP, accused Apple of selling technology “made with minerals sourced from a region whose population is being devastated by grave violations of human rights.” 

“Since the release of the Blood Minerals report by Amsterdam & Partners, we have received new evidence from whistleblowers. It is more urgent than ever that Apple provide real answers to the very serious questions we have raised as we evaluate our legal options,” Amsterdam said.

Apple has previously declared that it does not directly purchase or source primary minerals.

Last year, it stated in a report that there was “no reasonable” basis to conclude that any of the smelters or refiners of tin, tantalum, and tungsten (3T minerals), as well as gold (3TG), “directly or indirectly financed or benefited armed groups” in the DR Congo or neighboring countries.

In March, a US court of appeals dismissed a petition to hold Apple, Google parent Alphabet, Dell Technologies, Microsoft, and Tesla liable for allegedly aiding child labor in cobalt mining operations in the DR Congo.

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