DR Congo Formally Accuses Apple of Purchasing ‘Blood Minerals’ Sourced Illegally from Rwanda

On a formal note, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has initiated legal steps in Paris, London, and Washington, seeking explanations from Apple regarding the alleged purchase of ‘blood minerals’. These minerals, notably tin, tantalum, and tungsten (known collectively as 3T), are claimed to be sourced predominantly from Rwanda—a country reported not to mine these minerals extensively. This situation arises amidst accusations that these minerals are smuggled from the eastern regions of Congo, contributing to environmental damage and escalating violence in the area due to their illegal mining and sale.

In a statement, the Kinshasa government articulated its concerns, stating that Apple’s use of these minerals in their products indirectly supports illegal mining operations which, in turn, finance armed groups causing widespread harm and instability in the region. The Rwandan government has repeatedly denied such illegal trade, affirming its annual mining of 8,000 to 9,000 tonnes of various minerals and claiming that Rwanda processes 9% of the world’s tantalum used in electronics.

The International Trade Administration of the United States acknowledges Rwanda as a significant global processor of tin, tantalum, and tungsten. Furthermore, according to the Ecofin Agency, last year Rwanda surpassed DR Congo in exporting coltan internationally.

Drawing on a report titled “Minerais de sang – Le blanchissement des 3T de la RDC par le Rwanda et des entités privées” (Blood Minerals – The Whitewashing of DRC’s 3T by Rwanda and Private Entities), the Kinshasa government has given Apple a three-week ultimatum to respond. Failure to provide a satisfactory explanation could lead to legal actions in European courts, considering Apple’s substantial market presence and worth, estimated at $2.6 trillion predominantly from its iPhone, iPad, and Macintosh products.

This is not the first instance of tech companies, including Apple, facing allegations regarding the use of conflict minerals. In 2019, the International Rights Advocates filed a lawsuit in the U.S., accusing major tech firms like Apple, Microsoft, Tesla, Dell Technologies, and Alphabet’s Google of purchasing cobalt mined by children in DR Congo. Although a U.S. appeals court dismissed the lawsuit last month, stating that purchasing cobalt did not implicate the companies in the exploitation, the longstanding accusations by DR Congo against Rwanda for destabilizing security to exploit natural resources persist—allegations that Kigali continues to deny.