Microsoft, Renault and Huawei were criticised for poor efforts to protect DRC children from cobalt mining © Amnesty International
Microsoft, Renault and Huawei were criticised for poor efforts to protect DRC children from cobalt mining © Amnesty International

Electronics firms failing on ethical cobalt

posted by Su-San Sit
15 November 2017

Electronics firms and electric vehicle carmakers are not doing enough to ensure the cobalt in batteries they use is not mined by children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Amnesty International has said.

Amnesty said demand for cobalt is rising rapidly as the world’s largest carmakers launch electric vehicles that use the metal in their batteries. Cobalt prices have more than doubled over the past year and focus on the supply chain has also grown. 

It said more than half of the world’s supplies of cobalt come from the DRC and as much as 20% is mined by hand and sold to local traders. Amnesty’s report on cobalt mining last year said that children as young as seven were mining the mineral in the DRC.

In its follow-up report released this week, Amnesty said almost half of the 29 largest companies that use cobalt, including Microsoft, Renault and China’s Huawei, were failing to demonstrate even “minimal” compliance with international due diligence standards.

It said electric carmakers such as Tesla and BMW also needed to do more to disclose the sources of their cobalt.

Amnesty said it had ranked 29 companies that buy cobalt from the DRC according to five criteria based on guidance from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

It asked the companies whether they had identified human rights risks in their supply chain and if they had taken steps to address them since its report last year.

It found that Apple performed the best, having named its suppliers, including Huayou Cobalt and engaged with the Chinese company to address child labour concerns since last year’s report.

Of the electric carmakers, the best performer was BMW, while Daimler and Renault scored the worst. It said Tesla was showing signs of potential on the back of its human rights investigative practices but there was still a lack of information about how it addresses risks in its supply chain.

The report said across the board there was a lack of transparency and that “companies are not disclosing their assessments of the potential for human rights abuses in their supply chains or of their suppliers’ own due diligence practices”.

Seema Joshi, head of business and human rights at Amnesty International, said the industry giants had an obligation to make sure they sourced their cobalt responsibly. 

“As demand for rechargeable batteries grows, companies have a responsibility to prove that they are not profiting from the misery of miners working in terrible conditions in the DRC,” she said.

“When you look at the leaders of these companies, they’re still not disclosing this critical information needed to evaluate what they’re doing is actually effective in identifying and protecting human rights abuses.” 

Responding to the report, Renault said that it followed OECD guidelines and required suppliers to comply with “laws relating to responsible procurement of minerals”.

Daimler disagreed with the findings and said it was in the process of building a dedicated human rights due diligence system for its entire supply chain on the basis of UN guidelines and OECD guidance.

Microsoft said that is was engaged with all of its battery suppliers to make sure they complied with its Responsible Sourcing of Raw Materials policy.

Tesla said it was committed to “only sourcing responsibly produced materials” and pointed out that its NCA batteries used relatively little cobalt.

Amnesty top five company rankings:

Computer, communications and consumer electronic companies:

  1. Apple
  2. Dell Technologies
  3. HP Inc
  4. Huawai Technologies
  5. Lenovo Group

Electric vehicle manufacturers:

  1. BMW Group
  2. Daimier AG
  3. Fiat-Chrysler
  4. General Motors
  5. Renault Group

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