Amnesty International has announced that Apple, Samsung, and Sony have been using minerals mined by African children as young as 7 in their products.
The report showed that the human rights organization found young children in mines extracting cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The children were mining for cobalt, a vital component of the lithium ion batteries found inside smartphones and other devices.
According to reports, Congo produces more than 50% of the entire world’s cobalt, and as a result of such high demand, the miners are facing serious health implications. Between 2014 and 2015, there have been at least 80 catastrophic deaths of underground cobalt miners, and UNICEF estimates that there are around 40,000 children working in such mines.
Amnesty highlighted a smelter in Congo owned by Congo Dongfang Mining International in its investigation. The report stated that Congo Dongfang did not check the origin of the cobalt it purchased. The report states that after the cobalt is smelted, it is then sent to China and sold to battery manufacturers. Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt told Amnesty that it had ”reasonably presumed that the behaviors of suppliers comply with relevant regulations of the DRC and taken the corresponding social responsibilities.”
In spin-mode, a number of tech giants have released statements following the recent widespread attention. Apple reported “underage labor is never tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards.”
The statement continues, however: “We are currently evaluating dozens of different materials, including cobalt, in order to identify labor and environmental risks as well as opportunities for Apple to bring about effective, scalable and sustainable change.”
Samsung said it has a ‘zero tolerance policy’ for child labor and any “contracts with suppliers who use child labor will be immediately terminated.”
Sony have reported that it is “working with the suppliers to address issues related to human rights and labor conditions at the production sites, as well as in the procurement of minerals and other raw materials.”
Amnesty International isn’t quite convinced. “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,” says Mark Dummett, Business & Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International.
Tech giants like Apple, Samsung and Sony monopolize the market and customers give their trust to these companies to provide them with ethically-produced products. These companies spends large sums of money and time marketing products and claiming to supply top-end electronics, but what they fail to do is strictly regulate the operational aspects of the business, which often results in collateral damage.
It is not enough for companies to discontinue trading relationships with suppliers after issues in the supply chain surfaces. These companies must take action to prevent any further cases of this occurring in the future.
(Photo by Julien Harness, Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 Generic, CC by-SA 2.0)