A joint study between Amnesty International and Afrewatch links tech giants to a substantiated mismanagement of cobalt mining in the DRC. These ores are used in the production of lithium-ion batteries that power a number of smartphone devices.
In a report that records the conditions faced by minors while doing artisanal mining in Katanga, a city within the boundaries of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Amnesty International (AI) reveals that a number of companies have failed to conduct basic checks to ensure that the cobalt mined by these young workers will not be included in the products that they manufacture.
As such AI is requesting that these corporations to conduct human rights due diligence to ensure that children are removed from the mines and working conditions within the mining location are made safer, inspect whether the ores they use for their products were mined under perilous conditions or with artisanal laborers that include minors, as well as to be more transparent regarding their sources.
In response to the alarming ascertained in the report, Afrewatch (Africa Resources Watch) Executive Director Emmanuel Umpula reiterates that major global sellers buy cobalt from suppliers that encourage child labour, particularly Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), a subsidiary of Chinese mineral giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd (Huayou Cobalt). He points out the inconsistencies within a digital period where transparency is disregarded.
The alarming data from UNICEF highlighted in AI’s report, indicate that around 40,000 boys and girls are working as artisanal miners across Southern DRC. These young workers are exposed to harsh conditions just to earn a dollar or two (1,000-2,000 Congolese Francs). They are made to work under the sun, or in deep and unsecured mining location for 10-12 hours. Interviews with some of the workers reveal that they often get sick because of the backbreaking task they need to accomplish each day.
Here is what the tech giants, when inquired about the allegation, have to say:
Huayou, the company who owns CDM that smelts and exports the raw materials (ores) to its parent companies in China and Korea, which, in turn, markets lithium-ion batteries to household names in Japan, Europe and USA (companies now facing the accusations), says that they are not aware that of such conditions. CDM strictly follows a supplier selection process to make sure that they buy raw materials from legitimate sources.
LG Chem, one of the nation’s major battery manufacturers that also supplies batteries to Apple, Inc., confirmed that it acquired component metals through this supply chain, but has taken steps to investigate AI’s findings.
Apple says that it is evaluating a number of materials, including cobalt to identify labour, and environmental risks, and opportunities for the tech giant to bring about effective, scalable, and sustainable change.
Sony reasons that they are seriously considering the accusations and are now investigating on it. However, the company denies that the products they manufacture contain the cobalt originated from Katanga.
Samsung indicates that it has no direct contact with CDM or Haiyu Cobalt, as well as reasons that verifying whether the cobalt used in their products did come from the DRC is impossible to do. Microsoft, on the other hand, explains that they have not traced the cobalt used in Microsoft products through their supply chain to the smelter level because of the complexity of the process involved as well as the resources required to accomplish it.