A new report by Amnesty International says child labor is being used in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to mine the cobalt used in lithium-ion batteries found in a number of products from Apple, Samsung, Volkswagen, Sony, Daimler, and others.
“The glamourous 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,” said Mark Dummett, Business & Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International.
“Millions of people enjoy the benefits of new technologies but rarely ask how they are made. It is high time the big brands took some responsibility for the mining of the raw materials that make their lucrative products.”
The report documents how local traders buy cobalt from areas where child labour is being used and sell it to Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), a subsidiary of Chinese mineral giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd (Huayou Cobalt). Huayou Cobalt then processes the cobalt, selling it to three battery component manufacturers, who then sell to battery makers supplying the technology companies mentioned in the report.
“The abuses in mines remain out of sight and out of mind because in today’s global marketplace consumers have no idea about the conditions at the mine, factory, and assembly line. We found that traders are buying cobalt without asking questions about how and where it was mined.”
Of the 16 companies who were listed as customers of the battery manufacturers listed as sourcing processed ore from Huayou Cobalt, one company admitted the connection, four were uncertain, six said they were investigating the claims, and five denied sourcing cobalt from via Huayou Cobalt. Two firms denied sourcing cobalt from the DRC.
In response to the report, Apple told the BBC: “Underage labour is never tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards.”
The Cupertino firm said it conducts extensive audits on its supply chain, and any supplier found using underage workers is required to fund the worker’s safe return home, finance the worker’s education at a school of the child’s parent’s choosing, continue to pay the worker their wages, and offer that worker a job when he/she reaches a legal working age.
On cobalt specifically the iPhone maker added: “We are currently evaluating dozens of different materials, including cobalt, in order to identify labour and environmental risks as well as opportunities for Apple to bring about effective, scalable and sustainable change.”