Apple, Samsung, and Sony accused of child labour links

Amnesty International report claims children as young as seven are working in life-threatening conditions

Workers at a DRC cobalt mine
Women and men working at a cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo
(Image credit: Federico Scoppa/AFP/Getty Images)

Amnesty International has accused several electronics manufacturers, including tech giants Apple, Samsung and Sony, of failing to conduct basic checks over the use of child workers in mining the minerals needed to make batteries for their devices.

The human rights agency's report says children as young as seven in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are mining cobalt for their products. The mineral is used in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries and also electric cars

The DRC produces up to 50 per cent of the world's cobalt supply. The report, which contains testimonies from children said to have worked in the country's mines, claims 80 miners died underground between September 2014 and December 2015.

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The BBC adds that around 40,000 young people could be working in DRC mines according to the children's charity Unicef.

In response, Apple told the broadcaster: "Underage labour is never tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards."

In addition, it stressed its rigorous audits of the supply chain to ensure that components linked to child labour do not make their way into their products and that suppliers using underage workers are forced to finance an education for any children they hire, continue to pay their wages and offer them a job once they reach the legal age to work.

Samsung also said it had a "zero tolerance policy" towards child labour and that it terminates any contracts with suppliers if they are found to use children, while Sony said it was working with suppliers to "address issues related to human rights and labour conditions."

AppleInsider highlights that under US standards, cobalt is not regarded a "conflict mineral" - meaning companies are not obliged to publish supply chain reports and are left to police the market themselves.

The Amnesty report says cobalt traders in the DRC buy "from areas where child labour is rife and sell it to Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese mineral giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd (Huayou Cobalt)".

They claim the cobalt is then processed and sold to three battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea, who sell to battery makers supplying household name electronics and car manufacturers.

Several other companies are named as having possible links to the DRC-mined mineral, including car brands Mercedes (as Daimler) and Volkswagen.

The organisation contacted 16 multinationals listed as customers of batteries with links to ore from Huayou Cobalt. One admitted the link, while the rest said they were unsure, would investigate the claims or issued a denial.

Huayou Cobalt has responded to the allegations, reports The Guardian, and said: “Our company has not been aware that any of our legitimate suppliers has hired child labour in their mining sites or operated in unsafe working conditions… CDM has rigorously selected its ore suppliers to ensure the procurement of raw materials through legitimate channels”.

They newspaper adds that Amnesty hopes the report will create more transparency within the supply chains of large multinational technology corporations.

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