Apparently, food giants are not the only ones to aid and sustain child labor in poor African countries.
Although several reports, over the years, claimed children and teenagers were being used as slave labors to work in extremely dangerous conditions to mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a new CBS News investigation has recently revealed something even more horrifying.
Mine owners are not just using children – they are using toddlers to mine the mineral that 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.
Unfortunately, children as young as four are laboring all across the Central African country in life-threatening conditions with Chinese middlemen buying the supply, claimed a new report by the Amnesty International.
In 2016, a similar report by the human rights organization accused 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 half of world’s total supply of cobalt comes from DRC, where about 40,000 children reportedly work in mines. The non-profit stated the batteries sold to 16 multinational brands contained traces of mineral extracted from mines where young children work in grave 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 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.
At the time, 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 it had a “zero tolerance policy” when it came 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 it was working with suppliers to address human rights and labor issues.
However, a 2017 follow-up report by the Amnesty International claimed the tech giants had failed to address the use of child labor in the accumulation of raw materials for their products.
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. Although it’s highly unlikely that these household brands didn’t know about the real source of the material used in their lithium-ion batteries, perhaps such investigations and the fear of public scrutiny will implore them to stop overlooking the abuse and work toward solving it.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Krishnendu Halder