Report Links Tech Firms to Child Labor in Africa

Computing

Major tech manufacturers fail to do basic checks to ensure minerals used in their products are not produced by child labor, according to a new Amnesty International report.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), children as young as seven are reportedly put to work in "perilous conditions," mining cobalt for use in lithium-ion batteries.

"The glamourous 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," Amnesty International researcher Mark Dummett said in a statement.

According to the human rights organization, traders buy cobalt from areas rife with child labor and sell it to Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM). Parent company Huayou Cobalt then sells it to battery makers, which claim to supply companies like Apple, Samsung, LG, Daimler, Sony, Volkswagen, Dell, HP, Motorola, Microsoft, Vodafone, and Huawei.

None of the above organizations immediately responded to PCMag's request for comment.

When Amnesty International contacted 16 multinational businesses with possible ties to the DRC and Huayou Cobalt, only one admitted the connection. Six said they were investigating the claims, five denied sourcing cobalt from Huayou (despite being listed as customers), four could not confirm their affiliation, and two flat-out denied a cobalt connection with the DRC.

"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," said Emmanuel Umpula, executive director of AI partner Africa Resources Watch (Afrewatch).

At least half of the world's cobalt is produced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where miners face long-term health damage and fatal accidents. Children reportedly work for up to 12 hours a day, carrying heavy loads and earning $1 to $2 a day.

Amnesty International and Afrewatch are calling on manufacturers who use lithium-ion batteries to investigate whether their materials—specifically cobalt—are extracted under hazardous conditions or with child labor.

"Millions of people enjoy the benefits of new technologies but rarely ask how they are made," Dummett said. "It is high time the big brands took some responsibility for the mining of the raw materials that make their lucrative products."
Source:PC Tech Magazine 19 January 2016