‘iPhones soaked with blood’: DR Congo govt sends notice to Apple

The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo issued a formal notice to Apple regarding ‘illegally exploited’ minerals from the country’s troubled eastern region, news agency AFP reported citing lawyers representing the African nation on Thursday.

According to the Paris-based DRC’s lawyers, Macs, iPhones, and various Apple products are “tainted by the blood of the Congolese people.” (Representational Image)(AP)

The notice to Apple from the DRC includes inquiries regarding “3T (Tin, Tungsten, Tantalum) minerals used in Apple products” and urges the tech company to respond “within three weeks.”

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According to AFP, the lawyers representing the DRC have sent Apple a formal cease and desist notice, cautioning the tech giant about potential legal repercussions if the alleged practice persists. “Apple has sold technology made with minerals sourced from a region whose population is being devastated by grave human rights violations,” the lawyers representing the DRC conveyed.

According to the Paris-based DRC’s lawyers, Macs, iPhones, and various Apple products are “tainted by the blood of the Congolese people.”

The lawyers, based in Paris and representing the DRC, accused Apple of procuring minerals smuggled from the DRC into neighbouring Rwanda, where they undergo laundering and are “incorporated into the global supply chain.”

They wrote, “Apple has consistently relied on a range of suppliers that buy minerals from Rwanda, a mineral-poor country that has preyed upon the DRC and plundered its natural resources for nearly three decades.”

Apple’s response

The news agency reached out to Apple, which referred to statements in its 2023 annual corporate report concerning the purported utilisation of conflict minerals, crucial components in various high-tech products. “Based on our due diligence efforts… we found no reasonable basis for concluding that any of the smelters or refiners of 3TG (tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold) determined to be in our supply chain as of December 31, 2023, directly or indirectly financed or benefited armed groups in the DRC or an adjoining country,” it said.

What is DR Congo rich in?

The DRC is abundant in tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold, collectively known as 3T or 3TG, essential minerals used in producing smartphones and other electronic devices.

The mineral-rich Great Lakes region of the DRC has been plagued by violence since the regional conflicts of the 1990s, with tensions escalating again in late 2021 when rebels from the March 23 Movement (M23) began reclaiming large areas of territory.

Accusations from the DRC, the UN, and Western nations point to Rwanda’s alleged support of rebel groups, including M23, to control the region’s extensive mineral wealth, although Kigali denies these allegations.

Allegations outlined in the letter include sexual violence, armed assaults, and widespread corruption at mineral sites that supply materials to Apple.

ITSCI programme in mineral extraction of DR Congo

French lawyers said the tech giant’s efforts to ethically source minerals are deemed “notoriously insufficient.” The official letter said, “Apple seems to rely mainly on the vigilance of its suppliers and their commitment to respect Apple’s code of conduct.”

However, suppliers and external audits appear to depend on certification from the Tin Supply Chain Initiative (ITSCI), which the DRC government’s formal notice claims “has been shown to have numerous and serious shortcomings.”

According to the British NO Global Witness, the ITSCI program, established over a decade ago, is one of the primary mechanisms to ensure the supply of “conflict-free” minerals in the DRC.

According to AFP, in April 2022, Global Witness accused ITSCI of contributing to the laundering of conflict minerals, child labour, trafficking, and smuggling in the DRC.

(With AFP inputs)

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