Apple, Samsung And Sony Chastised By Human Rights Group For Using Cobalt Mined By Child Laborers

Apple, Samsung, and Sony are among a list of "major electronic brands" that Amnesty International, a human rights group, says failed to perform "basic checks to ensure that cobalt mined by child laborers has not been used in the their products." Specifically, cobalt is a critical material used in lithium-ion batteries.

"The glamorous 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 man made tunnels risking permanent lung damage," said Mark Dummett, Business & Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International.

"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," Dummett added.

Samsung Battery

Amnesty International's report traces the sale of cobalt back to mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo where children as young as 7-years-old were found to be working. Children talked of working up to 12 hours in the mines on any given day, carrying heavy bundles and earning just $1 to $2 for their efforts. Some have it worse than others.

"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," a 14-year-old orphan who started mining at the age of 12 told Amnesty International.

The report documents the sale of cobalt mined from child labor to Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), a wholly owned subsidiary of Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd (Huayou Cobalt). It then makes it way down to three battery component manufactures in China and South Korea, which in turn sell their products to auto makers and electronic manufacturers. In addition to Apple, Samsung, and Sony, the report also calls out Microsoft, Daimler, and Volkswagen.

Companies Respond

The downloadable report also contains statements from some of the companies accused of turning a blind eye to child labor in the supply chain.

"Underage labor is never tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards. We not only have strict standards, rigorous audits and industry-leading preventative measures, but we also actively look for any violations," Apple said in response to the report. "Any supplier found hiring underage workers must 1) fund the worker’s safe return home, 2) fully finance the worker’s education at a school chosen by the worker and his or her family, 3) continue to pay the worker’s wages, and 4) offer the worker a job when he or she reaches the legal age."

Samsung said it has a strict "zero tolerance policy on child labor" and and "if a violation of child labor is found, contracts with suppliers who use child labor will be immediately terminated."

Sony told Amnesty International that it "takes this issue seriously" and is currently gathering facts.

"So far, we could not find obvious results that our products contain cobalt originated from Katanga in the DRC. We will continue the assessment and pay close attention to the matter," Sony added.