Apple Inc was given an overall rating of 3 out of 4 by Amnesty International in 2017 in relation to the company's cobalt sourcing practices.
In its report, Time to Recharge: Corporate action and inaction to tackle abuses in the cobalt supply chain, published in November 2017, Amnesty International looked at the performance of 29 companies, comprising Huayou Cobalt (the smelter and “choke point” in the supply chain) and 28 downstream companies. All had been identified in the course of research for the 2016 report 'This is What We Die For' to have possible supply chain links to Huayou Cobalt and included five automakers contacted after publication of the 2016 report.
The report summarised the cobalt supply chain as follows:
- Artisanal mines
- Intermediaries (in the case of child miners)
- Licensed buying houses in Musompo and Kapata
- Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM)
- Huayou Cobalt, China
- Lithium-ion battery component manufacturers
- Electronics and car companies
Apple Inc was one of the nine computer, communication & consumer electronics
companies in the report which sourced cobalt for its products.
At the time the report was published, more than 50% of the world's cobalt (an essential element of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries) originated from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with 20% of that cobalt coming from artisanal miners. An earlier report by Amnesty International published in 2016 ('This is What We Die For') had documented serious human rights abuses in artisanal cobalt mining in southern DRC and exposed how miners operating outside of authorised zones worked in extremely dangerous conditions, lacked basic safety equipment, had limited access to legal protections, and suffered from chronic illnesses including fatal respiratory diseases. In addition, children as young as seven had been found to be working in the mines. The report also assessed the cobalt sourcing practices of 26 companies and concluded they had all failed to conduct human rights due diligence in line with international standards.
Two years on, 'Time to Recharge' documented the extent to which those companies and others had subsequently improved their cobalt sourcing practices. The report rated Apple three out of four after finding it had taken:
- adequate action in relation to investigating its supply links to the DRC;
- adequate action in relation to establishing robust policies and systems to detect human rights abuses in its cobalt supply chain;
- adequate action to identify human rights risks and abuses;
- moderate action to disclose information about human rights risks and abuses in its supply chain;
- moderate steps to mitigate human rights risks or remediate harms related to its cobalt supply chain.
As a result, Apple Inc lost half a mark under the workers' rights category.
Time to Recharge: Corporate Action and Inaction to Tackle Abuses in the cobalt supply chain (2017)