Case Study
Use of Cobalt - Article 24 ICCPR (rights for children)

Right + Threaty: Article 24 ICCPR
Sector: Technology sector
Country: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Rights for children (status as minors, nationality, registration and name)

The world is increasingly powered by lithium-ion rechargeable batteries, ranging from those found in smartphones to those in electric vehicles. These rechargeable technologies are attractive because they reduce the total number of batteries manufactured and causing harmful waste. However, a report by Amnesty International published in January 2016 has shown that cobalt, a key component of lithium-ion batteries, is being mined by children as young as seven in extremely poor conditions. Amnesty International alleges that cobalt mined by children in hazardous conditions is entering the supply chain of some of the world’s largest tech companies and electric vehicle manufacturers, including Microsoft, Tesla, Samsung and many more.

More than half of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). UNICEF has estimated that 40,000 children are involved in mining cobalt in the DRC. “Companies have a responsibility to prove that they are not profiting from the misery of miners working in terrible conditions in the DRC. The energy solutions of the future must not be built on human rights abuses” Amnesty official Seema Joshi said in a statement.

Amnesty’s most recent report, published in November 2017, ranked industry giants including Apple, Samsung, Dell, Microsoft, BMW, Renault and Tesla on how much they have improved their cobalt sourcing practices since January 2016. Amnesty commended Apple for becoming the first company to publish information about its cobalt suppliers. Apple has since become the industry leader in terms of responsible cobalt sourcing and has actively engaged with suppliers to address child labour in its supply chain, temporarily. However, Amnesty International alleges that electric vehicle companies are lagging behind their counterparts in the consumer electronics sector and have made little progress to address hazardous child labour concerns. Renault, Daimler, BMW, Tesla and Volkswagen all refused to disclose the identities of their smelters/refiners.