Cobalt. It doesn’t just strike your eyes with a certain pitch of blue: it’s a key component of our smartphones’ lithium-ion batteries. But it seems that the labor used to obtain this mineral has been poorly regulated. And Amnesty International is implicating Apple and Samsung — both companies having their own shares of labor problems — as well as Sony, Microsoft, Huawei, LG, ZTE, Lenovo and eight other multinationals for being complacent to child labor in their supply chains.
All of those manufacturers, while they don’t necessarily share battery providers nor battery part providers, do eventually come back to a singular mineral refinement company in China called Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd. Its subsidiary, Congo Dongfang Mining, is one of the largest mineral processors in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that ships half of the world’s cobalt.
The NGO claims that Dongfang purchases raw cobalt from mining companies that do not properly protect their employees from hazardous air quality and injury. It sourced UNICEF figures estimating that about 40,000 children worked mines in southern DRC. Many worked 12 hour days for as much as two dollars’ wages. One 14-year-old, sick from having already mined for two years, said he had to work 24-hour shifts.
There were 80 miner deaths reported in the 15 months from September 2014, though the number is believed to be higher as some worksite accidents don’t get noted.
Cobalt is not considered a conflict mineral under US trade rules.
The 16 international conglomerates, all of them having stated that they have not investigated Huayou Cobalt prior to Amnesty International’s report, have been called upon to inspect their supply chain. The organization is also calling on the Chinese government to make sure Huayou Cobalt commits to due diligence in rejecting companies that use children as miners.
If you feel unclean after this story, at least one upstart is trying to avoid all this mess while providing a unique product to boot.