Cobalt Mining Report Finds Apple’s Battery Suppliers Use Child Labour

Human rights organization Amnesty International accuses Apple, Samsung, Sony, Daimler, and Volkswagen of failing to undertake basic checks to ensure cobalt mined by child labourers has not been used in their products.

The report, entitled “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. To understand the importance of this report, you need to know that cobalt is used in lithium-ion batteries.

Amnesty has put together a graphic to help you visualize the potential Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) supply chain: right from the roots to the “end user”, aka Apple, Samsung, and others.

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The main problem, as previously highlighted by other reports, is that child labour is widespread in mines. The DRC produces at least 50% of the world’s cobalt, and one of the biggest mineral processors in the country is Huayou Cobalt subsidiary CDM. Huayou Cobalt gets more than 40% of its cobalt from the DRC, the report reads.

As emphasized by Amnesty, children have been working 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’s data.

After contacting 16 multinational consumer brands listed as direct or indirect consumers of cobalt, lithium-ion battery component manufacturers Ningbo Shanshan and Tianjin Bamo from China, and L&F Materials from South Korea, Amnesty concluded that companies are failing to address human rights risks arising in their supply chain.

In response to the report, Apple told the BBC:

In response to the report, Apple said: “Underage labour is never tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards.”

Apple did not directly answer Amnesty International’s questions regarding its purchasing of components or products containing cobalt that has been processed by Huayou Cobalt. Instead, addressing the broader question about its due diligence policy, Apple wrote that it was:

“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.”

In an email sent to Amnesty International, Apple added:

“Apple goes beyond what is legally required to drive further change in the DRC and neighboring countries. We provide significant funding and strategic guidance to several programs that are increasing the number of registered miners operating in, and selling their materials through, conflict-free channels, providing educational and health care support to mining communities, developing best practices for small scale miners to improve their productivity and health & safety, and improving methods for tracking and trading materials from the mine to the smelter.”

Apple has been under media scrutiny for many years due to human rights violations discovered by various reports in its supply chain. Since then, the company has built a comprehensive supply chain monitoring system and tried to eliminate child labour from its supply chain with various moves. Weak points still remain.