A report by Amnesty International has claimed that cobalt used in batteries by major electronic brands is mined by children as young as seven, working in life-threatening conditions.
Its report 'This is what we die for: Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt' accuses brands, including Apple, Samsung and Sony, of failing to perform basic checks to ensure that cobalt mined by children has not been used in their products.
According to the report, companies along the cobalt supply chain are failing to address human rights risks arising in their supply chain.
The investigation carried out by Amnesty with African Resources Watch (Afrewatch) revealed that children as young as seven are working in dangerous conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to mine cobalt that is used in smartphones, cars and computers.
Amnesty International business and human rights researcher Mark Dummett said: "The glamourous 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 manmade tunnels risking permanent lung damage.
"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."
The report documents the way traders purchase cobalt from areas where children work, and sell it to China-based Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt's wholly owned subsidiary Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM).
Prior to selling the cobalt to three battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea, Huayou Cobalt and its subsidiary sell to battery makers claiming to supply technology and car companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, Daimler and Volkswagen.
When Amnesty contacted 16 multinationals listed as customers of the battery manufacturers, none of them provided enough details to independently verify where the cobalt in their products came from.
Afrewatch executive director Emmanuel Umpula said: "It is a major paradox of the digital era that some of the world's richest, most innovative companies are able to market incredibly sophisticated devices without being required to show where they source raw materials for their components.
"The abuses in mines remain out of sight and out of mind because in today's global marketplace consumers have no idea about the conditions at the mine, factory, and assembly line."
Amnesty International researchers also found that majority of miners spend long hours every day working with cobalt without the most basic of protective equipment.
Image: The Amnesty International report documents the way traders purchase cobalt from areas where children work. Photo: courtesy of Amnesty International.