Big tech companies pledge to keep kids out of cobalt mines

Nearly two-thirds of the world’s cobalt comes from Congo. Photo shows artisanal miners holding up handfuls of cobalt ore (left) and copper ore (right) from industrial mine sites near Lake Malo, Kapata, on the outskirts of Kolwezi, in the DRC. (Image courtesy of Amnesty International and Afrewatch)

The use of child labour to mine cobalt and other minerals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has recently been documented.

Now, two separate business groups focused on electronics supply chains have launched initiatives to try to stop children from mining cobalt in the DRC, where an estimated 60% of the metal used in lithium-ion batteries is found.

In a report, Amnesty International 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.

A story carried this week by The Washingon Post tells that Apple, HP, Samsung SDI, and Sony have joined an effort known as the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, led by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Metals, Minerals & Chemicals, and supported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD):

Members of the initiative pledged to follow OECD guidelines for mining supply chains, which call for companies to trace how cobalt is being extracted, transported, manufactured and sold. Any abuses would require immediate correction.

Another group dubbed the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition rolled out a new “Responsible Raw Materials Initiative” which is looking at cobalt from the Congo, says the Post:

The EICC said companies need to expand scrutiny of their supply chains beyond the traditional four “conflict” minerals covered by U.S. legislation — tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold. These minerals, when taken from the Congo region, receive extra attention because of potential ties to funding militias.

Membership in the EICC includes Apple, Dell, Foxconn, Ford Motors and other companies, and 19 EICC-member companies have signed pledges to support the new initiative, [EICC vice president for social and environmental responsibility] BobMitchell said.

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.

Back in January human rights organization Amnesty International accused 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 , 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.

Based on publicly available investor documents and interviews with 87 people, Amnesty explains the mined cobalt is sold on to large mineral firms, such as Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), a 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 throughout that supply chain.

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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