The cobalt in your smartphone’s battery could have been sourced with child labor, according to a new report from Amnesty International. The human rights organization traced the sale of cobalt, a main component in lithium-ion batteries, back to mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo and found that children as young as seven are working there to unearth the valuable mineral. Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Sony and automakers Volkswagen and Daimler are among the tech giants named in the report, which claims those companies have not been thorough enough when it comes to understanding who is mining cobalt for their products.
Cobalt is a key component in the lithium ion batteries that have become common in cell phones, laptop computers, other portable electronic devices, and even in some electric cars. The Amnesty report published January 19 is “the first comprehensive account of how cobalt enters the supply chain of many of the world’s leading brands.” Through interviews with over 90 people, including some child laborers, researchers determined more than 50 percent of the cobalt used in batteries come from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where children are often required to work up to 12 hours a day. Mine workers of all ages engage in the perilous work without basic protective equipment, despite the potential health risks from prolonged exposure to dust and minerals.
Many of the companies identified in the report have responded in defense of their procedures, ranging from a “zero tolerance” stance (Apple and Samsung) against child labor to sheer ignorance of mining labor conditions (Microsoft) to claiming that they are actively involved in addressing the issues (Sony). Emmanuel Umpula, coauthor of the Amnesty report, says those companies and others simply aren’t doing enough when it comes to checking their supply chain. He pointed out the irony in an interview with Fast Company. “It is a major paradox of the digital era that some of the world’s richest, most innovative companies are able to market incredibly sophisticated devices without being required to show where they source raw materials for their components,” Umpula said.
Via Fast Company