How your smart phones could be contributing to child labour

I Phones and Windows phones are just two of a number of popular smart phone, PC and Car brands that are sourcing cobalt from mines in the Democratic Republic Of Congo and children as young as seven are working in those mines, these are the findings from a new investigation by human rights organisation Amnesty International

Reports in both The Guardian and Amnesty’s website share shocking accounts of traders acting on behalf of huge multinational corporations buying cobalt from mines where workers endure back breaking work for less than a dollar a day. These workers are not only working for next to nothing but they are also working in the intense heat with no protective clothing, many of them are minors as young as a seven years old, subjected to carrying heavy loads and beaten by security guards.

The sourcing of cobalt via cruel means is traced back to a mineral processor known as Congo Donfang Mining owned by Chinese company Huayou Cobalt who supply cobalt from the DRC to companys such as Apple. Huayou Cobalt have denied any knowledge of minors working in the mines they source from.

Amnesty have published a chain of supply that implicates the likes of Samsung, Volkswagen, Sony, Mercedes and Vodaphone. While the response from these companies has been mixed, Amnesty states that none have provided adequate details to verify where they are sourcing their cobalt.

amnesty cobalt supply chain data.jpg

Child labourers in these mines face 12 hour work days, a staggering 40, 000 children are reported to be working in mines in southern DRC alone. In the words of Paul, a 14yr old orphan who has been working in the mines for two years already:

I would spend 24 hours down in the tunnels. I arrived in the morning and would leave the following morning … I had to relieve myself down in the tunnels … My foster mother planned to send me to school, but my foster father was against it, he exploited me by making me work in the mine.”

Notwithstanding the dangers to the health of both minor and senior workers in the cobalt mines, there is no legal aid or support for their human rights in an unregulated cobalt market. Amnesty in partnership with other regional NGOs are calling on multinationals to enact fair and humane working conditions, we can only hope the evidence collected in their ongoing research can trigger a global response in standing up for the rights of the cobalt mine workers and most importantly ending the cruel use of minors in them.

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