Cobalt mined by child labourers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is getting into the supply chains of major electronics brands like Apple, Samsung and Sony, according to a report by Amnesty International and Afrewatch.
The report This is what we die for: Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt found children as young as seven had mined the mineral, which plays an important role in lithium-ion batteries.
The report said while many leading brands claimed to have a zero tolerance policy towards child labour in their supply chains they were unable to provide evidence of checks undertaken to prevent such abuses when it came to cobalt.
The DRC's cobalt miners face perilous conditions and often permanent lung damage, said the report.
More than half of the world’s supply of cobalt comes from the DRC and around 20% of this amount comes from artisanal miners in the southern part of the country – who often work in the poor conditions outlined in the report.
Most of the artesan-produced cobalt is sold to Chinese traders and purchased by Congo Dongfang Mining International (CDM), a subsidiary of China-based Huayou Cobalt, the report claimed.
CDM smelts the ore at its DRC plant before exporting it to China where it is further processed and sold to battery component manufacturers. These firms in turn sell to battery manufacturers, whose products are bought by well-known consumer brands.
“Artisanal miners include children as young as seven who scavenge for rocks containing cobalt in the discarded by-products of industrial mines, and who wash and sort the ore before it is sold,” said the report.
The report calls for companies to carry out greater due diligence through their supply chains to ensure they are not using cobalt mined by child labourers.
It said any company that sources processed ore, and its customers along the supply chain, should be able to trace its suppliers up to the smelters, which may include companies such as CDM and Huayou Cobalt.
However, when contacted by Amnesty International, most of these brands could not provide evidence that they had undertaken research to identify smelters or tried to contact them to find out where their cobalt was sourced from.