Are You Reading This on Your New iPhone 5?
Hey, I don’t know if you heard, but there’s a new iPhone. It’s supposed to be the thinnest smartphone in the world and it has a bigger screen! It even has 4G connectivity (though I’m not really sure what that means). And you can buy it from several leading phone companies for just $200-$400! Sounds great, right? Unfortunately that doesn’t cover the whole cost for the planet – and it’s definitely not the whole story…
Minerals such as tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold are vital elements to the production of almost all electronics (yes, even that new, sleek iPhone of yours). Some of the largest deposits of these minerals in the world can be found in mines in the eastern Congo. During the Congo’s civil war (1996-2002), military groups took control of the region and fight to maintain dominance there today. Control of these mines provides access to a lucrative trade and these militant groups continue to terrorize and kill people in order to maintain that control. According to the Center for American Progress’ Enough Project over 5.5 million people have died in the conflict in the Congo since 1996.
Nearly every major electronics company depends, to varying extents, on minerals from eastern Congo. Apple – who began its rollout iPhone 5 this week and is predicted to sell 33 million new iPhones this quarter, netting some four or five billion dollars by the end of the month – is by no means the worst culprit. However, it has a long way to go. According to the Enough Project, which has produced a comprehensive rating of the major electronic companies, Apple rates 9th out of 24 major companies. Their record has improved considerably in the past two years though and now are 38% of the way to eliminating conflict minerals from their products. Intel is rated the best company by far (nearly 60% of the way there) and Nintendo the worst, having made no effort whatsoever to minimize its use of conflict minerals.
The fact that the electronic devices that we surround ourselves with, and get such personal, professional and emotional support from are dependent on civil war and violence is cause for outrage. Especially as Jews who spend so much time and sacred ink analyzing what, when, and how we consume, these facts should encourage us to seriously reflect. But, the news, however, is not entirely bleak – and there are things you can do!
Just a few weeks ago the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted a provision from the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which forces companies to audit their supply chain and attempt to minimize the reliance on conflict minerals. But it is up to individual companies, and thus ultimately to consumers, to make sure this provision matters. Check out how well the companies you shop from are doing. Tell them you want them to do better or you’ll shop elsewhere. And maybe, because these minerals are in all electronics, consider whether that iPhone 4S might have another two years in it.