Tech titans including Apple, Samsung, Toshiba, Panasonic and Nintendo have been criticised by a major charity for failing to clean up their supply chains and potentially using so-called 'conflict minerals' from the Congo in their products.
Enough, a project of the Center for American Progress, has assessed the precautions 21 major gadget manufacturers took to ensure their components did not contain metals sourced from mines in the eastern Congo controlled by rebel groups and criminal gangs.
The Congo is particularly rich in minerals essential for the manufacture of mobile phones, such as the 'three Ts': tin, which is used in solder; tantalum, which stores electricity and means your phone doesn't lose data when its battery is flat; and tungsten, which is used in vibrating elements.
The country is also vast and largely lawless, with rebels and army alike forcing people to work in mines in appalling conditions, keeping them cowed with rape and violence, the Guardian reports.
The chain of companies that deal in these minerals is so long it's very hard to know exactly where they come from, but Enough has engaged a group of large companies to exert pressure down the chain to better ensure the raw materials are responsibly sourced.
This model has worked in the clothing and diamond industries. As a result of Enough's efforts, legislation has been passed in the US to set standards, and support what it calls an "evolving multilateral architecture for supply-chain due diligence from the United Nations".
HP is leading the pack of manufacturers, "due to its supply chain investigations, leadership... for the tantalum smelter auditing programme, and its progressive stance on legislation and certification."
Apple, to its credit, "sends auditors to its first tier suppliers on environmental and labour standards and publishes the results of these audits, which is a high bar to set relative to industry standards. However," Enough warns, "these audits do not yet focus on conflict minerals, and Apple should apply the same format to the audits of its 3TG smelters and suppliers.
"Apple also fell slightly behind the top companies because of its silence on the US conflict minerals legislation."
Panasonic, Canon, Sharp and Nintendo were all strongly criticised in the report for not having "undertaken any efforts to trace, audit, or help certify (their) products as being conflict-free".