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Are you sure that your laptop is 'child-labour-free'?

You can’t entirely be. If you search on the internet, you will probably find that the lithium-ion battery, the thing that powers your laptop, tablet or smartphone and enables you to surf for hours, contains cobalt. If you search a little longer, you’ll learn that 50% of this mineral comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – mined in the south of the country, often by children and for very little money.

Demand the removal of children from the mines

Kids work in mines under dangerous conditions

Children, as young as seven are involved in this dirty industry. According to a UNICEF report from 2014, approximately 40,000 boys and girls work in the mines across the southern part of the DRC, many of them involved in cobalt mining. The majority of the kids work above ground, collecting minerals from the mountains of tailings (or residue) outside both active and inactive industrial mines. They can also work in lakes and streams close to the mines, washing and sorting the stones.

Some boys go underground, digging deep to access the ore.

The vast majority do not have the most basic protective equipment, such as gloves, helmet, or even work clothes such as overalls. They don’t even wear basic face-masks that would prevent them from breathing in the potentially fatal cobalt dust.

Whatever work they’re doing in the mines, all the children do extremely physically demanding work. They might work for up to 12 hours a day in the mines, earning a mere $1-2 a day. Some work even longer hours, like 14-year-old Paul who started mining at 12. He told Amnesty researchers:

'[I would often] spend 24 hours down in the tunnels. I arrived in the morning and would leave the following morning.'

No school as the family needs an income

Many kids do not attend school at all. Others are in the mines before and after school, 10-12 hours during the weekend or in school holidays. They have to work, since their parents don’t have jobs and struggle to feed, clothe and educate their children.

'I worked in the mines because my parents couldn’t afford to pay for food and clothes for me. Papa is unemployed, and mama sells charcoal.', Arthur 13, who worked in a mine aged 9-11.

Although the law provides for free and compulsory primary education for all children, most schools still charge families a monthly amount to cover costs, such as teacher salaries, learning materials and uniforms. The land may be rich in minerals but that doesn’t mean the people can afford to send their children to school.

Children must urgently be removed from mines

Wherever the cobalt mined in the DRC ends up –

  • in super alloys that are used in aerospace or marine turbine engines
  • in blue coloured glassware
  • in your laptop

It shouldn’t involve child labour at all.

It is internationally recognised that the involvement of children in mining is one of the worst forms of child labour, as it harms children’s health and safety. Governments are obliged to prohibit and eliminate child labour in mining and put in place measures to support children’s health, physical, educational, economic and psychological needs.

These rich companies who produce our smartphones and laptops also have a responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate and so they must carry out responsible supply chain practices.

Among other things, this means they must ensure that the cobalt they use is 'child-labour free'. To this end, they must vigorously investigate their cobalt supply chain for human rights abuses. They must take steps to remove children from the mines and to support their reintegration into the school system.

But our research has revealed that these high-tech companies are reluctant to show us what they are doing about this issue – leaving us all, like the boys in the tunnels, in the dark.

Tweet the companies – demand the removal of children from the mines

Join me in calling on these companies to thoroughly investigate their cobalt supply chain, making sure that it is free from human rights abuses and doesn’t involve child labour. Please tweet @Huawei or @Samsung and show them that as a consumer of their brand, you care about the conditions in which the raw minerals are extracted.

.@Samsung you need to check for human rights abuses in your cobalt supply chain & remove kids from it. #notinmyphone

Tweet !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');

I'm calling on you @Huawei to prove you're addressing human rights abuses in your cobalt supply chain #notinmyphone

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About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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