Human rights organization Amnesty International is accusing Apple, Samsung and Sony, among others, of failing to do basic checks to ensure children do not mine minerals used in their products.
In a report published Tuesday, the watchdog says it found children as young as seven working in dangerous conditions to extract cobalt — a vital component of lithium-ion batteries — in the DRC.
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Based on publicly available investor documents and interviews with 87 people, Amnesty explains the cobalt mined in the Africa country, source of roughly half of the world’s supply, it is sold on to large mineral firms, such as Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese mineral giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd (Huayou Cobalt).
Those companies process the ore, before selling it on to companies in China and South Korea, where it’s used to make batteries. Amnesty International claims that large manufacturers, including Apple, Sony and Samsung, use parts that contain the cobalt obtained thorough that supply chain.
The watchdog notes it contacted all the companies that came up in its research, and “none provided enough details to independently verify where the cobalt in their products came from,” although most offered at least qualified denials:
– Apple said it was evaluating if any of its cobalt came from Huayou or anywhere else in the DRC, but said “underage labour is never tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards”
– Samsung said “neither CDM nor Huayou Cobalt are registered suppliers and thus Samsung does “not carry out any business transactions with both companies.”
– Sony said it is conducting a fact-finding processes, but “so far could not find obvious results that our products contain cobalt originated from Katanga in the DRC. We will continue the assessment and pay close attention to this matter.”
– Daimler, which owns Mercedes, said the company’s procurement does not “engage in any traceable mineral or commodity purchasing activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Concerning the particular case at hand, we can confirm that we neither source from the DRC or the mentioned companies directly.”
– Volkswagen said: “To our best knowledge, the cobalt in our batteries does not originate from the DRC. To our best knowledge, CDM or Huayou Cobalt is not part of our supply chain.”
– Microsoft said it is unable to confirm “with absolute assurance” if its supply chain is involved. “Due to our supply chain complexity and the in-region co-mingling of materials, we are unable to say with absolute assurance that any or none of our cobalt sources can be traced to ore mined in the Katanga region,” Microsoft said.
– LG confirmed that Huayou is one of its suppliers of cobalt. “We requested our suppliers of cathode materials to confirm whether they used cobalt originating in Katanga in the DRC, and one of our 2nd-tier suppliers, Zheijiang Huayou Cobalt Co., Ltd. (Huayou Cobalt), has confirmed that their product contains cobalt originating in Katanga in the DRC.”
“The glamorous shop displays and marketing of state of the art technologies are a stark contrast to the children carrying bags of rocks, and miners in narrow manmade tunnels risking permanent lung damage,” Amnesty researcher Mark Dummett said in a statement.
“It is a major paradox of the digital era that some of the world’s richest, most innovative companies are able to market incredibly sophisticated devices without being required to show where they source raw materials for their components,” said Emmanuel Umpula, executive director of Afrewatch (Africa Resources Watch), which joined Amnesty to research the issue.
While many nations have rules that govern conflict minerals, cobalt is not considered one of them under a U.S. law passed in 2010. That ruling only lists gold, coltan, tantalum, tin and tungsten.
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UNICEF estimates that there are approximately 40,000 children working in mines across southern DRC. Most of them do not go underground; instead, they perform a variety of tasks on the surface, including scavenging for ore and sorting extracted minerals.
Having worked long years in Africa, I can tell you that if you stop those children working in the scrap piles they will not eat that day Sad but true.Don’t take their only hope until you replace it with something better. PLEASE
100% with you. Still wortking overthere. Those children are the support of the family most of the time. They need support not a penalty
I’m leaving in Katanga DR Congo and i’m geologist and working for one of Mining companies.
i support gene’s suggestion.
While it would be nice of them to monitor how their components are made, don’t these corporations have less influence over mining than the companies that buy and process the ore? That would be Chinese firms like CDM and Huayou. What pressure is being applied to them? I don’t know these particular enterprises, but many large Chinese enterprises are closely controlled or outright owned by China’s government. Wouldn’t action by China and its corporations have more influence on the trade than final consumers?
Dylan Elek McFarlane
Tell me when the consuming public in China, US and India will pay more for fairtrade/fairmined products – then we have news. Until then, this is simply laissez faire economics with externalities we should all expect…
Damn those are some really cold comments from gene, Regis and Adelard.
What is next? To turn a blind eye to child prostitution, if it gives the children enough money? To let them sell their organs if it gives them enough money?
Breathing dust day after day, spending hours working in awful conditions can be, by no means, a good position for those kids. I know it is not easy to find alternatives and I know their governments are mostly to blame. But it is still a good thing to ask from rich multinational companies that at least they make sure their supply chains are not taking part on this. Good for Amnesty International.
As someone who has lived in Africa for 50 years, Gene’s comment is, unfortunately true. It does not appear that the government of that country is particularly concerned about this despite the fact that they are also reaping the benefits of child labour
Whether tis is for cobalt or even tantalum/ COLTAN, these young helps their family to earn a square meal for the day whenever they are free, at least doing something for their survival, unfortunately these white collar NGO’s failed to put blame on buyers and traders and pointed out on child labour. As such most of the children are over age group of 15 found to be working in these illegal or artesian mining sites, pity but hats of to them for their survival earning …
Apple, Intel and all the listed and not listed American, EU and Asian companies have collectively spent over $7 billion to comply with the related “conflict minerals” legislation. They claim there is noting they can do because of contracts in their 17 layer supply chain. It incredible that THE most advanced technology companies refuse to require low cost XRF technology and other technology they developed be used to address this issue.
The mining companies also have no interest in complete socio-economic resource development in the DRC – just transfer the mineral wealth via outright corruption and invoice mispricing.
And yes there are children working above and underground in the DRC and Rwanda. If anyone believes that stopping child slavery in mining is taking food out of their mouths really has no clue as to the reality on the ground in the DRC in mining. The kids never get the money for their work anyway.