Making Mega-Corporations Ethical: Apple’s Journey To Fewer Slaves

iphone slavesApple recently released their “Supplier Responsibility Report.” They haven’t always been known for being a transparent or particularly responsible corporation. But this report goes a long way toward establishing their commitment toward an ethical supply chain. It’s all complex and for every practice that they are correcting, I’m sure that they still have another exploitive or unethical practice.

Today I’m more concerned with one particular item in that report: tantalum. Most of us never think of our tantalum, but we all have some. It’s in basically every cell phone, tablet, camera, and other small electronic devices. Most of the world’s tantalum today is being mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are many other sources in the world, but the DRC produces the cheapest. They can do so because much of it is mined by labor slaves and the profits were helping fund the rebels in the DRC’s decades-long civil war. There are lots of resources available to learn more about the unethical mining of tantalum.

Apple Supplier Responsibility Report: Confirmed in January 2014 that all active, identified tantalum smelters in our supply chain were verified as conflict-free by third-party auditors.

The story that I want to tell is that of Justin Dillon. You probably know Justin as the hip CEO and Founder of Made In a Free World. They are the ones that created the tool that allowed us all to check our “Slavery Footprint.” Justin has told the story many times, and he told it again this weekend at The Justice Conference. The gist is this: Justin and a few other creatives decided to e-mail Steve Jobs and ask whether he knew if the tantalum in the iPhone was conflict-free. Jobs answered, “I don’t know. I’ll look into it.” It took about 6 years, but Apple has now eliminated conflict-tantalum from their supply chain.

We can learn a few things from Justin Dillon’s story.

  1. Big mega-corporations really can change. Normally it will require a much more substantial campaign than this. Maybe there were others that protested after this e-mail to Jobs and brought it to Apple’s attention. But let’s be clear. These mega-corporations will only rarely change because it is the right thing to do. They change because consumers promise to do business elsewhere. Every person that spends money (therefore, every person that has money) has a responsibility to find out how their spending effects their neighbor. Jesus did not turn the tables in the Jerusalem temple because the money changers were adulterers or lack an adequate prayer life. He turned their tables because these “robbers” were exploiting people.
  2. In this case it didn’t require a whole movement of people. Normally it will. But no matter what is required, one person (or better, a group of people) really can move giants if they are willing to do the hard work necessary. They also have to be willing to put there money where their heart is if they want to move corporations. While Justin and his friends sent an email, you will be required to do more. But God moves the mountains, you just do your little part.
  3. The Gospel of Jesus Christ can motivate a person to pursue justice in ways that transcend personal righteousness. Discipleship is not only about prayer and holiness, but also about speaking to “principalities and powers.” And sometimes this Word actually gets action. I said a fair amount about the need to do God’s work of justice on a previous post that you can refer to for more.

A group of young Christians initiated a change in the 6th largest corporation in America. A bigger revolution will come when Jesus comes riding on a cloud. But in the mean time, we can rejoice that enslaving persons to mine metal is a bit less profitable in the DRC.

Related Post: Living Outside The Law: #LocustEffect Part 3


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