The Apple Watch May Have a Human Rights Problem


The Apple Watch finally hit stores and customer doorsteps Friday for its official release. The long-rumored device has gained praise for its luxurious components — a glamorous 18-karat gold casing, a taptic engine that gently nudges users on the wrist when they get a notification — excitement over Apple’s newest edition could be dampened by a new report claiming Apple products and those several other U.S. tech companies may contain unethically sourced parts.

According to a report from Amnesty International and Global Witness, several U.S.-based tech companies including Apple, Amazon, Google and IBM failed to show whether they eradicated use of conflict minerals essential for electronics such as gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum to comply with international law.

Amnesty International found that 79 of 100 companies sampled did not meet the minimum requirements dictated by the conflict minerals law that was passed in 2014.

Conflict minerals are typically sourced from Democratic Republic of the Congo and other areas of Central Africa. The violent unrest in the war-torn region is fueled by the mineral trade. Armed militia groups have profited from mineral mining for decades, claiming more than 5 million lives in the process. Local reforms have significantly decreased militant groups’ influence in recent years, but the groups still profit from illegal gold mining through exploitation.


The Apple Watch comes with either an aluminum case or the 18-karat rose or yellow gold case reserved for the pricey Edition version of the watch. But electronic devices are generally comprised of some portion of what could be conflict minerals: tin, which is used in circuit boards; tungsten, found in light bulbs; and tantalum, which is used to regulate the flow of electricity. Gold is often used as an electricity conductor, such as in gold-tipped HDMI cords used to connect computers to TVs.

The law mandates companies outline the supply chain of purchased minerals by at least attempting to contact the refiners or smelters that process the minerals, and reporting potential risks, the report said. Companies then have to file those reports with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Only 16 percent of over a thousand companies that filed reports to the SEC met the minimum disclosure requirements. The report is not an indictment of the tech companies, and does not assert they were out of compliance of international law — only that they failed to sufficiently document efforts made to eliminate their use of conflict minerals. Apple vowed last year to eliminate use of conflict minerals and expose suppliers who dealt in them.

“Companies are under pressure to show they leave no stone unturned in their efforts to make sure products on the shelf don’t hide a terrible story of conflict and human rights abuse,” said James Lynch, director of Amnesty International’s business and human rights team, in a statement regarding the report.

Apple, along with other tech companies, will have to submit new reports to the SEC in June to show what strides are being taken to limit or exclude conflict minerals in their products.