The materials and minerals used in the products manufactured and marketed by top tech companies like Microsoft, Apple and Samsung are often sourced from underdeveloped countries with child labourers as young as 7 years mining for minerals. For example, according to this Amnesty International report titled “Democratic Republic of the Congo: ‘This is what we die for’: Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt”, small children are used to mine cobalt which is then sold to the Chinese firm Huayou Cobalt which further distributes the mineral to manufacturers in China and South Korea. Cobalt is used to make lithium-ion batteries used in smartphones by top tech companies like Microsoft, Apple and Samsung and different car manufacturers.
Earning as little an amount as one or two dollars the small children are forced to work up to 12 hours every day. It isn’t just the hard work, after prolonged exposure to chemicals and dust in these mines, many kids end up with serious lung and skin diseases. According to a UNICEF report approximately 40,000 children work in different mines across southern Democratic Republic of Congo and most of these children are engaged in the mining of cobalt.
When contacted by Amnesty International, most of the tech companies expressed cluelessness regarding where the raw material is sourced from for the batteries they use. Amnesty International contacted 16 tech and automobile companies that partner with battery manufacturers that are known to source the raw material from Huayou Cobalt.
Samson SDI makes batteries for Samsung and Apple devices and it responded by saying that it is impossible to determine whether the cobalt use in the batteries is sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Huayou Cobalt it doesn’t even feature in its supply chain.
The laws in the US make it mandatory for public companies to disclose whether their supply chains include “conflict” minerals like tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold but there are no provisions to restrict these companies from working with battery manufacturers and mining operators that employ small children in underdeveloped countries.
Incidentally, recently Intel pledged that the chipmaker would stop sourcing materials from war zones by the end of 2016.