Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Was the Cobalt in Your Phone's Battery Mined by a Child?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Was the Cobalt in Your Phone's Battery Mined by a Child?

Article excerpt

Cobalt, an element found in lithium-ion batteries used by some of the world's largest electronics companies and auto manufacturers, can be traced back to mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that employ children as young as 7 years of age, according to Amnesty International.

Amnesty released a report on Tuesday, criticizing companies of not performing "human rights due diligence" on source material for their products. According to the report, cobalt in lithium-ion batteries used in smartphones, notebooks, and tablets, originates from the DRC where children work up 12 hours a day, for as little as $1.

"Millions of people enjoy the benefits of new technologies but rarely ask how they are made," said Mark Dummett, a human rights researcher at Amnesty International, in a statement. "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 manmade tunnels risking permanent lung damage."

The human rights group, in a joint venture with African Resource Watch (Afrewatch) interviewed 87 people, 17 of which were children working in five artisanal cobalt mine sites. Some of the children interviewed described harsh working conditions such as lacking proper gear and carrying heavy loads, to earn between $1 and $2 per day.

Amnesty said they documented how traders bought cobalt from mining areas where child mining is widespread, and sold it to Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese mineral giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd (Huayou Cobalt). The mineral is locally processed and then sold to battery manufacturing companies in China and South Korea. The human rights organization used investor documents to identify 16 multinational brands listed as buyers of lithium-ion batteries, from the manufacturing companies.

According to the report, only one of the 16 companies confirmed to be customers of the Chinese companies, but said that they could not identify the true source of the material. Five of the companies denied any connection to the Chinese supplier, while two of the companies denied sourcing cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. …

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