Apple and Samsung accused of relying on child labor for lithium batteries

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Amnesty International has accused Apple, Samsung, Sony and other smartphone makers of not making basic checks which would have prevented their using batteries made with minerals mined by children.

In a report focused on cobalt mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, children as young as seven were found working in unsafe conditions. Cobalt is an essential part of the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries.

According to estimates by UNICEF, approximately 40,000 children work in mines in the southern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Apple responded to the report by issuing a statement saying that, “Underage labour is never tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards.” This refers to Apple’s insistence that suppliers violating child labor laws must pay for the employee’s return home, finance their education, continue to pay them wages, and then offer a job when they reach the legal age of work.

Recently Apple COO noted how , “No company wants to talk about child labor. They don’t want to be associated with that. We shine a light on it. We go out and search for cases where an underage worker is found in a factory somewhere and then we take drastic actions with the supplier [and] the upstream labor groups to try to make a change. Then we report it every year.”

Samsung responded to the Amnesty International report by saying that it has a “zero tolerance policy” toward child labor, while Sony noted that: “We are working with the suppliers to address issues related to human rights and labour conditions at the production sites, as well as in the procurement of minerals and other raw materials.”

No company has yet announced any increased proactive steps it will be taking to help cut down on underage labor in future, but with 50 percent of the world’s cobalt supply produced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at least it is clear where attention needs to be focused.

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