A number of leading technology companies, including heavyweights such as Apple, Sony and Samsung, have been accused by human rights organisation Amnesty of failing ensure that minerals used in their products are not mined using child labour.
Looking primarily at cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Amnesty discovered children as young as seven working 24-hour shifts in dangerous working conditions, sometimes without access to even basic amenities such as a toilet.
50 per cent of the world's cobalt supply (which is used in the construction of rechargeable batteries) is said to come from the DRC, with UNICEF estimating that 40,000 children work in the mines. The report (researched in conjunction with African Resources Watch), looked into trading between cobalt-rich areas, mineral giants Congo Dongfang Mining, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd, Huayou Cobalt and the familiar tech companies. In total, 16 multinationals were found to be connected, directly or indirectly, to child labour in the region.
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Apple responded to the report stating that "underage labour is never tolerated in our supply chain and we are proud to have led the industry in pioneering new safeguards." Samsung and Sony responded with similar "zero tolerance" attitudes.
In Apple's defence, being no stranger to worker controversies, it claims to now make rigorous underage worker audits. Should underage workers be found in Apple's supply chain, those hiring the minors are made to fund the worker's return him, finance an education for the child at a place of the family's choosing, continue to pay the child wages and offer a job when legal working age is reached.
Though many of the children work in less dangerous roles at the surface of mines, Mark Dummett, Amnesty's business and human rights researcher, called the mining among "the worst forms of child labour."
"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," he said.
"Millions of people enjoy the benefits of new technologies but rarely ask how they are made. It is high time the big brands took some responsibility for the mining of the raw materials that make their lucrative products.
"Companies whose global profits total $125bn (£86.7bn) cannot credibly claim that they are unable to check where key minerals in their productions come from." [BBC]