We Are All Accomplices

I rarely post articles from newspapers but this one got my attention. 

Children as young as seven mining cobalt used in smartphones, says Amnesty

“Amnesty International says it has traced cobalt used in batteries for household brands to mines in DRC, where children work in life-threatening conditions.

Children as young as seven are working in perilous conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to mine cobalt that ends up in smartphones, cars and computers sold to millions across the world, by household brands including Apple, Microsoft and Vodafone, according to a new investigation by Amnesty International.

The human rights group claims to have traced cobalt used in lithium batteries sold to 16 multinational brands to mines where young children and adults are being paid a dollar a day, working in life-threatening conditions and subjected to violence, extortion and intimidation.

More than half the world’s supply of cobalt comes from the DRC, with 20% of cobalt exported coming from artisanal mines in the southern part of the country. In 2012, Unicef estimated that there were 40,000 children working in all the mines across the south, many involved in mining cobalt.

In a joint-investigation with African Resources Watch (Afrewatch), an African NGO focusing on human rights in the minerals and extractive industries, Amnesty International says it interviewed 90 adults and children working in five artisanal cobalt mine sites. Workers spoke of labouring for 12 hours a day with no protective clothing, and with many experiencing significant health problems as a result.

The report says that child miners as young as seven carried back-breaking loads and worked in intense heat for between one or two dollars a day without face masks or gloves. Several children said they had been beaten by security guards employed by mining companies and forced to pay “fines” by unauthorised mines police sent by state officials to extort money and intimidate workers.

The human rights groups say they traced the supply chain from these mining sites to Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), one of the largest mineral processors in the DRC and a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese mineral company Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd (Huayou Cobalt).

The report says that Huayou Cobalt sources more than 40% of its cobalt from the DRC and processes the raw mineral before selling it to battery makers, who claim to supply companies including Apple, Microsoft and Vodafone. This supply chain has not been independently verified by the Guardian.

Responding to the allegations, Huayou Cobalt told Amnesty International that “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”.

Of the 16 companies listed in the report as sourcing from battery manufacturers using processed cobalt from Huayou Cobalt, two multinational companies denied sourcing any cobalt from the DRC and five said they had no links with Huayou Cobalt. The remaining companies either accepted Amnesty’s claims or were investigating the claims.

In its response to Amnesty’s allegations, which Amnesty has published in full alongside responses from the other named companies, Apple said it was currently evaluating whether cobalt in the company’s products originated in the DRC.

“Underage labour is not tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards,” it says.

Vodafone, in its response to Amnesty, stated that the company “is unaware as to whether or not cobalt in our products originates in Katanga in the DRC … both the smelters and the mines from which the metals such as cobalt are originally sourced are several steps away from Vodafone in the supply chain”.

Amnesty International and Afrewatch claim that despite the denials by some of the named multinationals, none of those companies named could independently verify where the cobalt in their products come from.

“What is very worrying is that none of the companies that we identified through our research and named in investor documents could trace the cobalt they use in their products back to the mines where it originated. Around half of all cobalt comes from the DRC, and no company can validly claim that they are unaware of the human rights and child labour abuses linked with mineral extraction in the region,” says Mark Dummett, business and human rights researcher at Amnesty International.

He said that some of the company responses to Amnesty’s assertions were “staggering”. For example, when asked by Amnesty International whether it sourced cobalt from CDM or Huayou Cobalt, Microsoft responded by saying: “We have not traced the cobalt used through our supply chain to the smelter level due to the complexity and the resources required.”

“These are some of the biggest companies in the world, with combined profits of $125 billion and there is no excuse that companies aren’t investing some of that profit into ensuring that they can trace where the minerals they are using are coming from,” says Dummett. “Anyone with a smartphone would be appalled to think that children as young as seven carrying out back-breaking work for 12 hours a day could be involved at some point in the making of it.”

The DRC has a long history of bloody conflict fuelled by the region’s mineral wealth and the region still has an estimated $24 trillion in untapped minerals.

Global demand for cobalt is increasing, but the global cobalt market remains largely unregulated as it falls outside “conflict mineral” legislation regulating the extraction and sale of other mineral such as gold, coltan and tin from the DRC.

Amnesty and Afrewatch are using the findings of the report to call on multinational companies to conduct investigations of their supply chains for lithium-ion batteries, to check for child labour or labour abuses and to be more transparent about their suppliers.”

source and original article: The Guardian

By buying smartphones, laptops, etc, we all indirectly support that kind of business. This is not like when it was discovered that some famous clothing brands are using slavery in south-eastern Asia – in that case you can just chose not to buy a product with certain brand. But here we don’t have much choice, all major players on the scene seem to be involved. I understand that technological development is the future of human society (even in poor countries of Africa), but take a moment and think about those kids next time you check the status on your Facebook….


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11 Responses to We Are All Accomplices

  1. Aadil Shah says:

    The World we live in still has a long way to go 😦

  2. d4rkn1ght says:

    Cheap labor is how they reduce the cost of producing their products. But that cheap smart phone or x-product that we buy, it’s not really cheap.The hidden part of the price is in someone else suffering and life. 😦

    • gdare says:

      You got a perfect point in that. But greed of the owners of big companies is bigger than a common sense and a feeling of decency and self respect.

  3. Unfortunately this became a problem here in Syria I mean children labour, sometimes because the family lost her supporter, sometime because of poverty, the final result is a disaster, now we have a destroyed ignorant generation.

    • gdare says:

      Yes, this is all tragic, nothing more to say about it. But in child labor in Congo, there is another level of cruelty: it is all organized. No war (even though the one they had in past might just helped the case), no tragic accident – there are companies who organized and supported that kind of crime. And they earn a huge load of money off it.

  4. Furie says:

    The problem there is that these companies are looking for the best deal and those providing services, materials, and resources basically enter a bidding war to get their business.

    They’ll be looking to save money wherever they can in order to make sure they can keep up with the demands of the larger companies while still making profit, and the people under them will offer cheaper alternatives. So you get people coming into the chain at some point who know full well that something dodgy must be happening somewhere, yet they don’t know where so they have deniability. You get people who know damn well what is going on, but they’re not the people doing it and they’ve got people above them demanding they get their departments cheaper. And you’ve got the people doing it, who are given enough money to make it a bit more fair than it is, yet are usually skimming from the top for themselves or their bosses (usually crime syndicates or terrorism). Without oversight from the top all the way down to the street level stuff, it’ll continue to happen, and the mines/sweat shops/factories/whatever will simply cover up when inspectors show up.

    So long as the big companies profit and retain deniability, they’re going to do the bare minimum needed to look into this. They might make a stand once in a while to portray a certain white hat image in the eyes of the public, but only while it isn’t impacting profits. And the sad thing is, the big companies bump up the prices of their products (see Apple releasing $600 phones with components that other manufacturers would charge $250 for), in spite of them getting cheaper materials at an increased human cost.

    • gdare says:

      Exactly. Everyone along the line is washing hands from that, as we say in Serbia, all the way to the top, while those kids are still in that mud. I know how it works, I’ve seen that already…

  5. kimmzifoo says:

    Sorry I’m late.
    I’m not ignorant to these issues, but wow, I didn’t realise it was so widespread. What can we do? Stop buying these things? It will make very little difference to the people who discard and purchase things at the launch of every new product… It makes me sad that money takes place of morals and human decency more and more.

    • gdare says:

      Unfortunately, overall technical advance in the world is now beyond point of not buying electronic devices. We just can’t do that, our entire system would crush making more trouble and suffering than what those kids are experiencing now. But it is important to point a finger and publicly shame people or companies who support that practice. Also to fine them. A lot. I know it is not comparable but if Shell could pay 19 billion dollars for spill in Gulf of Mexico, so could they. Each. This just shows how much money those big companies have.
      I am so pissed off at the moment, this world turned to a pure greed.

      Don’t worry for being late, better late then never, eh? 🙂

      • kimmzifoo says:

        Fining them a lot would work, I’m sure. After all, money’s why they work people to death in the first place. Make them pay enough maybe they’ll think about proper wage.

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