MAC: Mines and Communities

Children as young as seven mining cobalt used in smartphones

Published by MAC on 2016-01-19
Source: Guardian, CNet, Independent

Amnesty International, in joint research with African Resources Watch (Afrewatch), has exposed the use of child labour for cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The report can be downloaded here

video accompanying the report sets out its findings and the company responses.

Children as young as seven mining cobalt used in smartphones, says Amnesty

Amnesty International says it has traced cobalt used in batteries for household brands to mines in DRC, where children work in life-threatening conditions

Annie Kelly


19 January 2016

Children as young as seven are working in perilous conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to mine cobalt that ends up in smartphones, cars and computers sold to millions across the world, by household brands including Apple, Microsoft and Vodafone, according to a new investigation by Amnesty International.

The human rights group claims to have traced cobalt used in lithium batteries sold to 16 multinational brands to mines where young children and adults are being paid a dollar a day, working in life-threatening conditions and subjected to violence, extortion and intimidation.

More than half the world’s supply of cobalt comes from the DRC, with 20% of cobalt exported coming from artisanal mines in the southern part of the country. In 2012, Unicef estimated that there were 40,000 children working in all the mines across the south, many involved in mining cobalt.

In a joint-investigation with African Resources Watch (Afrewatch), an African NGO focusing on human rights in the minerals and extractive industries, Amnesty International says it interviewed 90 adults and children working in five artisanal cobalt mine sites. Workers spoke of labouring for 12 hours a day with no protective clothing, and with many experiencing significant health problems as a result.

The report says that child miners as young as seven carried back-breaking loads and worked in intense heat for between one or two dollars a day without face masks or gloves. Several children said they had been beaten by security guards employed by mining companies and forced to pay “fines” by unauthorised mines police sent by state officials to extort money and intimidate workers.

The human rights groups say they traced the supply chain from these mining sites to Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), one of the largest mineral processors in the DRC and a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese mineral company Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd (Huayou Cobalt).

The report says that Huayou Cobalt sources more than 40% of its cobalt from the DRC and processes the raw mineral before selling it to battery makers, who claim to supply companies including Apple, Microsoft and Vodafone. This supply chain has not been independently verified by the Guardian.

Responding to the allegations, Huayou Cobalt told Amnesty International that “our company has not been aware that any of our legitimate suppliers has hired child labour in their mining sites or operated in unsafe working conditions … CDM has rigorously selected its ore suppliers to ensure the procurement of raw materials through legitimate channels”.

Of the 16 companies listed in the report as sourcing from battery manufacturers using processed cobalt from Huayou Cobalt, two multinational companies denied sourcing any cobalt from the DRC and five said they had no links with Huayou Cobalt. The remaining companies either accepted Amnesty’s claims or were investigating the claims.

In its response to Amnesty’s allegations, which Amnesty has published in full alongside responses from the other named companies, Apple said it was currently evaluating whether cobalt in the company’s products originated in the DRC.

“Underage labour is not tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards,” it says.

Vodafone, in its response to Amnesty, stated that the company “is unaware as to whether or not cobalt in our products originates in Katanga in the DRC … both the smelters and the mines from which the metals such as cobalt are originally sourced are several steps away from Vodafone in the supply chain”.

Amnesty International and Afrewatch claim that despite the denials by some of the named multinationals, none of those companies named could independently verify where the cobalt in their products come from.

“What is very worrying is that none of the companies that we identified through our research and named in investor documents could trace the cobalt they use in their products back to the mines where it originated. Around half of all cobalt comes from the DRC, and no company can validly claim that they are unaware of the human rights and child labour abuses linked with mineral extraction in the region,” says Mark Dummett, business and human rights researcher at Amnesty International.

He said that some of the company responses to Amnesty’s assertions were “staggering”. For example, when asked by Amnesty International whether it sourced cobalt from CDM or Huayou Cobalt, Microsoft responded by saying: “We have not traced the cobalt used through our supply chain to the smelter level due to the complexity and the resources required.”

“These are some of the biggest companies in the world, with combined profits of $125 billion and there is no excuse that companies aren’t investing some of that profit into ensuring that they can trace where the minerals they are using are coming from,” says Dummett. “Anyone with a smartphone would be appalled to think that children as young as seven carrying out back-breaking work for 12 hours a day could be involved at some point in the making of it.”

The DRC has a long history of bloody conflict fuelled by the region’s mineral wealth and the region still has an estimated $24 trillion in untapped minerals.

Global demand for cobalt is increasing, but the global cobalt market remains largely unregulated as it falls outside “conflict mineral” legislation regulating the extraction and sale of other mineral such as gold, coltan and tin from the DRC.

Amnesty and Afrewatch are using the findings of the report to call on multinational companies to conduct investigations of their supply chains for lithium-ion batteries, to check for child labour or labour abuses and to be more transparent about their suppliers.

Apple, Samsung and Sony under fire over child miners in Africa

Amnesty International accuses major tech companies of failing to ensure that their batteries don't contain cobalt mined by underage workers.


19 January 2016

Amnesty's report focuses on cobalt, from mines such as this one in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is used to make smartphone batteries.

Apple, Samsung, Sony and others are failing to ensure minerals used in their products are not mined by children, according to human rights group Amnesty International.

Children as young as 7 are working in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, the organization, which is focused on tackling injustice in society, said in a report Tuesday. The children are mining for cobalt, a vital component of the lithium ion batteries found inside smartphones and other devices.

"Millions of people enjoy the benefits of new technologies but rarely ask how they are made," said Mark Dummett, business and human rights researcher at Amnesty, in a press release. "It is high time the big brands took some responsibility for the mining of the raw materials that make their lucrative products." The full list of companies under fire in the report also includes Microsoft, LG Chem, Huawei, Dell, HP, ZTE, Vodafone and Daimler.

Apple, Samsung and Sony said they have a zero-tolerance policy toward child labor and conduct what they believe are rigorous and frequent checks on suppliers.

Fierce competition in the international electronics market has led brands to rely on manufacturers, components and raw materials from every part of the globe. Amnesty's report, however, suggests their efforts to eliminate poor practices haven't gone far enough. And that kind of accusation can hurt big-name brands, as Nike learned with its child-labor problem in the 1990s. Apple has come under fire in the past for poor working conditions at the Foxconn plant in China where iPhones are made. Ultimately, no part of the supply chain is immune from scrutiny.

The Amnesty report focuses in particular on the problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which produces half of the world's cobalt. About 40,000 children work in mines in the southern part of the country, UNICEF estimates. The conditions are dangerous, with 80 miners dying between September 2014 and December 2015. Those who survive face a cramped and inhospitable working environment and risk lifelong health problems. Children interviewed for the report said they worked for up to 12 hours a day in the mines, carrying heavy loads to earn between $1 and $2 per day.

Amnesty International's primary complaint is that none of the major tech companies it spoke to had traced the origin of the cobalt in their lithium-ion batteries.

"Many of these multinationals say they have a zero-tolerance policy for child labor," said Dummett. "But this promise is not worth the paper it is written [on] when the companies are not investigating their suppliers. Their claim is simply not credible."

Panasonic, a large battery supplier, is absent from the list.

Companies respond

Apple, Samsung and Sony each outlined their processes for dealing with suppliers found to be exploiting child labor, and explained what they were doing to investigate claims made in the report.

"If a violation of child labor is found, contracts with suppliers who use child labor will be immediately terminated," Samsung said. It added that it prohibits the use of minerals from conflict zones, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, but that due to suppliers' non-disclosure agreements it was "impossible" to determine whether cobalt used in its products originated from there.

"Underage labor is never tolerated in our supply chain, and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards," Apple said in a statement.

Instead of focusing on punishing the supplier, Apple tries to ensure that any children who have been exploited are adequately compensated by the supplier. It requires the supplier to fund the worker's safe return home, fully finance their education at a school chosen by them and their family, continue to pay their wages and offer them a job when they reach the legal age.

"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," it said.

Sony takes its ethical responsibility towards minimising the risk of child labor being used in its supply chain very seriously, it said in a statement.

"With respect to cobalt supply chain and human rights abuses mentioned in your letter, we take this issue seriously and have been conducting a fact-finding process," Sony said. "So far, we could not find obvious results that our products contain the cobalt originated from Katanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We will continue the assessment and pay close attention to this matter."

Microsoft too said that despite the "stringent practices" it used to eliminate child labor from its supply chain, it could not say with "absolute assurance" that its cobalt had not originated in the mines in question. "We have not traced the cobalt used in Microsoft products through our supply chain to the smelter level due to the complexity and resources required," the company said in a statement.

Amnesty criticized nondisclosure agreements that allowed suppliers to shield the origins of minerals used in products from the prying eyes of multinationals, saying they let companies off the hook too easily.

"Without laws that require companies to check and publicly disclose information about where they source minerals and their suppliers, companies can continue to benefit from human rights abuses," Dummett said. "Governments must put an end to this lack of transparency, which allows companies to profit from misery."

Children as young as seven are mining metals for your mobile phone, according to Amnesty International

by David Connett


19 January 2016

Thousands of children, some as young as seven, are working in dangerous mines to produce a mineral which is powering mobile phones, computers and vehicle batteries around the world.

On Tuesday, 16 of the world's most famous electronic brands, including Apple, Sony and Microsoft, are accused of failing to take ultimate responsibility for the sourcing of some raw components found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Major companies are failing to do "basic checks" to ensure that cobalt mined by child labourers has not been used in their products, said Amnesty International and Afrewatch in a major new report.

It traces the sale of cobalt, used in lithium-ion batteries, from mines where, it is claimed, children and adults work in perilous conditions.

When contacted by Amnesty and Afrewatch, companies said they had a "zero tolerance policy" on child labour. But critics say there is little regulation of DRC mines and the global cobalt market.

Children can work up to 12 hours for as little as $1-2 a day (69p-£1.40) in unregulated cobalt mines where few, if any, safety rules apply, investigators said.

The majority of the cobalt mined in the unregulated sector of Congo is sold to a Chinese-owned smelting company which supplies battery-component making factories around the world. Between Congo and Asia, the ultimate source of the materials is often unrecognised. Under international guidance, manufacturers are expected to trace the mineral from extraction, the circumstances of extraction and its export.

Apple said it took "any concerns seriously and investigate every allegation". Sony said it was carrying out a "fact-finding" inquiry. Microsoft said it no longer sourced cobalt from a Chinese firm implicated in the DRC trade.

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