AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL has published a damning report criticising tech companies for not doing enough to prevent child labour crimes in the production of products, singling out Apple, Sony and Samsung as prime culprits.
Many similar reports have looked at sweatshops where assembly has taken place, but today's report focuses on the mining of cobalt, an essential element in the production of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.
Amnesty said that it has found children as young as seven working in dangerous conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the world's main exporter of the mineral.
The report claimed that at least 80 miners had died in the 15 months to the end of 2015, and UNICEF estimated that there are 40,000 children working in mines across the southern DRC.
Researchers found children working 24-hour shifts in the mines with no prospect of an education. Many more root through the discarded waste from mining activity to check that no cobalt has been discarded.
The three tech companies named in the report shared the concerns - Sony used the words "zero tolerance" - but the supply chain is more complex than that. Mines sell the cobalt to Congo Dongfang Mining, which is owned by a Chinese firm, and it is this firm that supplies the cobalt, negating the direct connection between the miners and the tech industry.
Mark Dummett, business and human rights researcher at Amnesty, told the BBC: "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 man-made tunnels risking permanent lung damage."
Apple has some of the most stringent anti-child labour policies in the world. Where child labour is found, the supplier is made to return the child home on full pay, fund their education and offer them a job at legal working age. However, where there is no direct link between parts of the supply chain, as in the cobalt case, the degrees of separation can lead to loopholes such as those found here.
Several companies have been looking at alternatives to cobalt which, as well as causing suffering for hundreds of under-age workers, can't actually do the job for which it is designed. Many mobile phones are still not able to last a full day, increasing the futility of this barbaric practice. µ
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