A new report by Amnesty International reveals the possible link of child-labor to nearly every major tech manufacturer in the world including Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, LG, Lenovo, Sony, Dell and HP. The use of child-labor was documented in the cobalt mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Cobalt is a rare mineral required to manufacture lithium-ion batteries which power nearly every mobile device in the world. The DRC produces about 55% of the world’s cobalt, according to a report by the Global Mining Institute.
In their investigation, Amnesty International followed the supply chain of cobalt starting at the mine. The mineral ore goes through various companies like Congo Dongfang Mining International, the largest company within the investigation, before it is processed and shipped to Congo Dongfang’s parent company, Huayou Cobalt. The cobalt is then refined and then sold to companies that manufacture phone batteries and electronic components, like Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, Daimler and Volkswagen.
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The cobalt itself is mined by adults and children as young as seven who work in underground tunnels with no protective gear for a mere $1-2 a day. The cobalt is picked by hand and shifts can last 24 hours. Skin contact with cobalt causes dermatitis while the dust from the mining operation can cause the possibly fatal “hard metal lung disease.” Unsurprisingly, the DRC no regulations that dictate miner safety or require the use of safety equipment.
Meanwhile in the U.S., there are no policies that force corporations to publicly report the supply chains of the resources that go into the consumer goods they manufacture.
Amnesty International asked Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony and HP whether or not the cobalt in their products originate from the Democratic Republic of Congo and received vague and indirect answers like “unable to say” and “currently under evaluation.”
Amnesty’s report explains:
“Under international human rights law, states have a duty to protect against human rights abuses by all actors, including businesses. This requires all governments to enact and enforce laws requiring corporate due diligence and public disclosure in relation to cobalt and other minerals.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time tech companies like Apple have been linked to child-labor-sourced minerals used in producing popular mobile devices.