Apparently, food giants are not the only ones to aid and sustain child labor in poor African countries.
Children as young as 7 are working in extremely dangerous conditions to mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in central Africa. The element, which is a vital component of lithium-ion batteries, ends up in smartphones, cars and computers sold to millions across the world by world’s richest and most popular brands, a new investigation by Amnesty International reveals.
The report, "This is What We Die For: Human Rights Abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Power the Global Trade in Cobalt,” accuses Apple, Samsung, Sony, LG and Microsoft among other technology and electronic giants of buying cobalt from suppliers using child labor.
As it turns out, more than 50 percent of world’s cobalt comes from DRC, where about 40,000 children reportedly work in mines. The human rights organization claims that the batteries sold to 16 multinational brands contained traces of mineral extracted from mines where young children work in life-threatening conditions.
Not only are these children paid less than $1 per day, but are also subjected to violence, extortion and intimidation. The report also claimed that at least 80 miners had died underground in southern DRC between September 2014 and December 2015.
“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,” said Mark Dummett, Business and 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 group also collected testimonies of children allegedly working in the cobalt mines. Most of the young workers spoke of laboring for 12 hours a day and being forced to carry heavy loads without any protective clothing. Many also experience significant health problems as a result.
For its part, Apple Inc. made a statement to the BBC claiming, “Underage labor is never tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards.”
Samsung, in a similar fashion, said that it has a “zero tolerance policy” when it comes to child labor.
“If a violation of child labor is found, contracts with suppliers who use child labor will be immediately terminated,” the company said in a statement.
Sony also released a statement saying that it is working with suppliers to address human rights and labor issues.
Of the rest of the multinationals listed in the report, including electric car makers Volkswagen and Daimler, along with Huawei, Dell, HP and more, at least two have denied the claims while five have said they had no links to Huayou Cobalt Ltd — a Chinese mineral retailer and one of the largest cobalt processors in the DRC. Others have either accepted Amnesty’s claims or are currently investigating the issue.
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Child labor remains one of the most discussed human rights violations in African countries, though it is only with the release of such reports that people get to learn of its actual extent. Moreover, although it is highly unlikely that these household brands didn’t know about the real source of the material used in their lithium-ion batteries, perhaps this investigation will prompt them to stop overlooking the abuse and work toward solving it.