Jobs: 'No way to be sure' iPhone minerals are conflict-free

Jobs: 'No way to be sure' iPhone minerals are conflict-free

Summary: An email from Steve Jobs indicates that although Apple requires its suppliers to certify that they use conflict-free minerals there is "no way" for the company to be certain.

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Apple customer Derick Rhodes was shocked after reading in the New York Times about the conflict raging in the Congo which supplies many of the minerals that end up in gadgets like mobile phones, computers and game consoles.

The minerals have been dubbed "conflict minerals" in a nod to the conflict diamonds -- according to Wikipedia, those mined in a war zone and sold to finance an insurgency, invading army's war efforts, or a warlord's activity, usually in Africa.

Since Rhodes was in the market to purchase an iPhone, he fired off an email to Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking about the source of the minerals used in the iPhone:

Hi Steve,

I’d planned to buy a new iPhone tomorrow – my first upgrade since buying the very first version on the first day of its release – but I'm hesitant without knowing Apple’s position on sourcing the minerals in its products.

Are you currently making any effort to source conflict-free minerals? In particular, I'm concerned that Apple is getting tantalum, tungsten, tin, and gold from Eastern Congo through its suppliers.

Looking forward to your response, Derick

Jobs responded:

Yes. We require all of our suppliers to certify in writing that they use conflict few materials. But honestly there is no way for them to be sure. Until someone invents a way to chemically trace minerals from the source mine, it’s a very difficult problem.

Sent from my iPhone

Wired verified the authenticity of the email response and suggested that Jobs' use of "conflict few" was a typo for "conflict free" which they attributed to the email coming from his iPhone.

Tip: Wired, Photo: Mark Craemer

Topics: Hardware, CXO, iPhone, Mobility, Smartphones, IT Employment

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42 comments
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  • Fascinating

    A company as large as Apple that can not verify where the material for their products originate from, even after receiving written assurances.
    :|
    Tim Cook
    • Apple and Foxconn is a problem, Minerals.. NOT

      Minerals are FoxConn's issue. They are in China, and they don't care, just take a look at what reports say about working for Foxconn.

      Apple should choose its suppliers better. Making profit is good, making profit at the expense of integrity is wrong, and Apple is walking a fine line here.

      If Apple's products keep on failing with more issues:

      - Lost Calls... Antenna issue.. Apple should provide free jackets
      - Screen Issues -- Apple should replace units
      - FaceTime -- Well this seems like a software issue easy fix.
      - Camera -- Same as above

      Apple has had a history of providing problematic products in the past, (eg infineon chips???). Its users have for the most part ignored these issues.

      Its up to the users to determine what they should demand from Apple. But considering their profit margins, at the very least they should provide solutions for free and not ask users to pony up more money, that's just bad business all around.
      Uralbas
      • China is a massive issue in Africa

        But with the world they way it is today nobody is going to say anything. Sad really.
        Richard Flude
      • You've got it completely backwards

        @Uralbas said: "Apple has had a history of providing problematic products in the past." Oh please! They do not. You can pick out specific issues from any company but year after year after year, product after product after product Apple has, BY FAR, some of highest user ratings in the industry or any industry. No company or product is error free, but your statement has it completely backwards. In reality, Apple has had a history of providing some of the best designed, most liked products on the market.
        Falkirk
      • honest

        @Uralbas
        at least apple is giving an honest answer and not some pr drivel. foxconn is producing for sony, hp, dell, nokia, nintendo and apple among many others. where is your outrage here? otherwise your post is just the usual hypocrisy of an apple hater.
        banned from zdnet
      • And the same is true of HTC, Dell, Samsung...

        @Uralbas

        More comments from the mentally challenged unable to actually think for themselves.

        One of the reasons the electronics I write software for have CPU cards that cost $5,000 is because we CAN track the origin of the materials. 5K for a processor card with a 132 MHz processor and 2 MB of RAM.

        Until people are willing to pay 3K for a DVD player, 15K for a 30" LCD TV, 2K for a cell phone, 250K for a Kia Soul, what Steve Jobs said is very true.
        Bruizer
      • If this is failure...

        @Uralbas You are a citizen of this universe, aren't you. If Apple is "failing," gimme some of that failure.

        You need a reality check, my friend.
        godsfault
    • RE: Jobs: 'No way to be sure' iPhone minerals are conflict-free

      @Mister Spock ... Every electronics manufacturer is in the same boat here. This is not an Apple-only problem.
      RationalGuy
    • Name me one company that can.

      @Mister Spock: For claiming that name, your ability to use logic is abysmal.
      Vulpinemac
    • RE: Jobs: 'No way to be sure' iPhone minerals are conflict-free

      @Mister Spock The last I heard no one is importing minerals from Eden. They are all from Earth, a planet where conflict rages everywhere. Pretty much a PC (politically correct) story that only illustrates how ridiculous the 'issue' is.
      dheady
  • It's unfortunate.

    I don't see Apple being able to do much more than get the assurance in writing. If they lie, someone expose them, Apple may change, but really, this is a non-story. The user in question can't be guaranteed the plastic holding his peaches didn't come from blood money wells in Nigeria, or that his remote doesn't have the same problem as his iPhone.

    TripleII
    TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
    • Can't edit.

      @TripleII
      I try to edit the above to add "expose them ([B]the supplier that is[/B])" but each time I try and hit "submit" I see the messages "This has been reported as spam".

      TripleII
      TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
      • The new talkback system is infuriating

        Tracing raw materials for every product is a real challenge.
        Richard Flude
      • When you edit..

        @TripleII

        You have to delete the {br} and hit return to put in proper paragraph breaks. Yes the new forum editing SUCKS which is saying a lot for a web site run by supposed IT professionals <img border="0" src="http://www.cnet.com/i/mb/emoticons/sad.gif" alt="sad">
        oncall
      • Message has been deleted.

        The Danger is Microsoft
  • RE: Jobs: 'No way to be sure' iPhone minerals are conflict-free

    It's no mystery that Apple has no clue where any minerals that go in an iPhone come from - designed in USA, made in China like the rest of the stuff they sell. Actually, China is just about the world's biggest producer of minerals, but I suppose there are a few that come from other countries. Of course, given China's latest materials resource buying spree, the mines in Africa are probably owned by them anyway.
    7mgte
    • true

      @7mgte
      but do you also understand that your statement holds true for any other company? dell, hp, nokia, sony, nintendo, everyone is producing at the same suppliers in china nowadays.
      banned from zdnet
      • RE: Jobs: 'No way to be sure' iPhone minerals are conflict-free

        @banned from zdnet

        Absolutely understand that it applies to everyone! And the problem is way bigger than a lot of folks understand. For example, the current administration is touting the need for energy indepnedance by going to green technologies. Guess what? There are many minerals, etc for which China is the world's primary supplier that go into all the green technologies. End result: trading energy dependance for mineral (& technology) dependance. All those "green jobs" that will supposedly be created? Already in China.

        Remember, the US business model is buy low, sell high. It applies to Apple, Wal-Mart, and green products. Low prices from China, high prices to the consumer, and CEOs get rich.
        7mgte
  • I dislike Apple generally - but posing the question is idiotic

    Honestly, trying to hold Apple to "conflict-free" minerals is the stupidest thing I have ever heard.

    If that's the standard, then what about the general population using imported oil from the middle east? That's one conflict after another.

    You want to nail Apple for something, how about exporting jobs overseas?
    croberts
    • jobs

      @croberts
      how about creating around 25.000 jobs in the us over the last decade? get your facts straight, than your apple dislike doesn't come off as clueless as it does now.
      banned from zdnet