Child labor is being used in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to mine cobalt, a mineral used in lithium-ion batteries found in devices from Apple, Samsung, Sony, Microsoft and car manufacturers Daimler and Volkswagen, according to a new report by Amnesty International.
Children told Amnesty International they worked for up to 12 hours a day in the mines, carrying heavy loads to earn between one and two dollars a day. In 2014 approximately 40,000 children worked in mines across southern DRC, many of them mining cobalt, according to UNICEF.
The report says that local traders buy cobalt from areas with child labor and sell it to Congo Dongfang Mining, a subsidiary of Chinese mineral company Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd, also known as Huayou Cobalt. Huayou Cobalt then processes and sells the cobalt to three battery component manufacturers -- Toda Hunan Shanshen New Material, Tianjin Bamo Technology and L&F Materal -- who sell to battery makers that claim to supply technology companies like Apple and Samsung.
When Amnesty International contacted the 16 companies listed as customers of those battery makers, one admitted to a connection, four weren't sure, six were investigating the claims and five denied the claim. Cobalt is not a regulated market, according to Amnesty International, and it is not listed as a "conflict" mineral in the United States like the gold, tin and tungsten mined in the DRC.
Apple provided a statement to the BBC, saying that "underage labor is never tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards." The company also pointed out that it has "rigorous audits" and any supplier found using child labor is forced to fund the worker's safe return home, finance the worker's education, continue to pay the worker's wages and offer him or her a job when he or she reaches the legal age. Apple also said that it is looking into the cobalt charge.
On cobalt specifically it added: "We are currently evaluating dozens of different materials, including cobalt, in order to identify labour and environmental risks as well as opportunities for Apple to bring about effective, scalable and sustainable change."
This isn't the first time one of Apple's suppliers has been found using child labor. In 2013 Apple revealed that it terminated business with one Chinese supplier after finding out that they were using child labor. That same year Apple formed an academic advisory board for its Supplier Responsibility program to assist in creating safe workspaces wherever its products are made.
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