A new report by Amnesty International has accused Apple and Microsoft of using batteries made with cobalt mined by underage children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The Atomic Number of cobalt is 27 and the Element Symbol is Co. The Swedish chemist and mineralogist, Georg Brandt discovered it in the year 1735. Cobalt is widely used in batteries and in electroplating. It is estimated that more than 50% of the world’s cobalt is mined from the DRC.
In the past, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund estimated that more than 40,000 children were working in cobalt mines in the DRC.
In this latest report, Amnesty International said it has documented evidence of children as young as seven-years-old working in cobalt mines. The children are reportedly mining the cobalt that is being used in the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries. Apple and Microsoft are said to be purchasing these batteries without doing any proper background checks.
The report said local traders buy cobalt from areas with underage child labor and sell it to Huayou Cobalt, a Chinese mining company operating in the DRC. Huayou Cobalt then processes the raw material and sells the refined cobalt to three battery component manufacturers — Toda Hunan Shanshan New Material, Tianjin Bamo Technology and L&F Material. These companies sell what they have processed to battery makers, who in turn supply the batteries to technology companies of Apple and Microsoft.
Amnesty claimed that mining companies often employ children for as little as 2 dollars a day. The companies do not protect employees from the obvious hazards created by working in the mines. When speaking to some of the underage children working in the mines, Amnesty discovered that the children sometimes work in the mines for up to 24 hours.
Amnesty said it interviewed 87 current and former cobalt miners, 17 of which are said to be underage children working in the mines.
“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,” Amnesty quoted one child as saying in the report.
The report also accused Samsung and Sony, as well as car manufacturers Daimler and Volkswagen, of also using such batteries. However, it is said that Apple and Microsoft are more widespread than these companies.
According to statistics, since September 2014, around 80 people have died in cobalt mines in the DRC. In fact, as companies do not register every victim—and have even been known to cover up some incidents—Amnesty said the death toll could be even higher. Currently, it is said 16.9 percent of the children aged between 5 and 14, are working in the Congolese mining industry. The International Labor Organization has said mining is one of the worst forms of child labor, due to the numerous health risks associated with it.
The DRC is a country located in Central Africa. It has an abundance of mineral resources. The country is widely considered to be the richest country in the world in terms of natural resources. Since colonial days, the country has been badly exploited by French and Belgian colonial administrators.
The untapped deposits of DRC’s raw minerals are estimated to be worth in excess of US $24 trillion. It has 70% of the world’s coltan, a third of its cobalt, more than 30% of its diamond reserves, and a tenth of its copper. And due to the high demand of these resources, rebels and the country’s armed forces engage in heinous practices—such as employing underage children to work by force–in order to get the minerals to sell and buy arms.
The American technology companies purchasing these exploited minerals are responsible for fueling the conflict in the DRC, according to a 2001 report by the United Nations.
The country’s economy has declined drastically since the mid-1980s. Its citizens are among the poorest people on earth. The Congolese people are consistently assigned the lowest, or near lowest, nominal GDP (gross domestic product) per capita in the world.
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