Recent reports that Apple is looking to procure cobalt, an essential component in smartphone batteries, directly from mining companies have highlighted a growing concern about the valuable metal's impending supply shortage.
But just as important as securing a supply of the limited resource may be what one expert calls a "21st century factor" — ethics and human rights.
"Apple is a buyer of batteries, not a buyer of battery components, and it's a number of steps away from the raw materials side. So this is significant — the reason they're doing it is supply chain visibility," Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Minerals, told CNBC. "They need to ensure that their cobalt isn't sourced from illegal mining operations, especially those using child labor."
"It might be a supply concern, but really Apple's biggest concern over the last five years has been where are our components coming from and are they mined and produced responsibly?" Moores added. Apple declined to comment on the reports, which cited unnamed sources.
More than 60 percent of the world's cobalt is found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2016, Amnesty International unveiled evidence of child labor in mines whose cobalt, through a long and complex supply chain spanning several continents, has wound up in Apple's smartphones, among several other major device makers. In 2012, Unicef estimated that 40,000 children worked in mines in the DRC's south.