Amnesty International has published a new report, together with Afrewatch (Africa Resources Watch): “This is What We Die For: Human Rights Abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Power the Global Trade in Cobalt”, traces the sale of cobalt used in lithium-ion batteries from mines where children as young as seven and adults work in perilous conditions. It claims that major electronics brands, including Apple, Samsung and Sony, are failing to do basic checks to ensure that cobalt mined by child laborers has not been used in their products. “The glamourous shop displays and marketing of state of the art technologies are a stark contrast to the children carrying bags of rocks, and miners in narrow manmade tunnels risking permanent lung damage,” said Mark Dummett, Business & Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International.
The DRC produces at least 50 percent of the world’s cobalt. One of the largest mineral processors in the country is Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), a subsidary of Chinese mineral giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd (Huayou Cobalt). Huayou Cobalt gets more than 40 percent of its cobalt from DRC. AI’s report documents how traders buy cobalt from areas where child labor is rife and sell it to CDM. They then process the cobalt before selling it to three battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea, which in turn sell it to battery makers who claim to supply technology and car companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, Daimler and Volkswagen. “Millions of people enjoy the benefits of new technologies but rarely ask how they are made. It is high time the big brands took some responsibility for the mining of the raw materials that make their lucrative products," said Dummett.
Miners working in areas from which CDM buys cobalt face the risk of long-term health damage and a high risk of fatal accidents. At least 80 artisanal underground miners died in southern DRC between September 2014 and December 2015 alone. “The dangers to health and safety make mining one of the worst forms of child labor. Companies whose global profits total $125 billion cannot credibly claim that they are unable to check where key minerals in their productions come from,” Demmett added. Today there is no regulation of the global cobalt market. Cobalt does not fall under existing “conflict minerals” rules in the USA, which cover gold, coltan/tantalum, tin and tungsten mined in DRC. “Many of these multinationals say they have a zero tolerance policy for child labor. But this promise is not worth the paper it is written when the companies are not investigating their suppliers. Their claim is simply not credible.” Amnesty International and Afrewatch are calling on multinational companies who use lithium-ion batteries in their products to conduct human rights due diligence, investigate whether the cobalt is extracted under hazardous conditions or with child labor, and be more transparent about their suppliers.