Time To Recharge

Back in 2016 Amnesty International released a report that identified major electric and autotrade businesses as using cobalt mined by child slaves in their rechargeable batteries.

These companies, such as Apple, Volkswagen, Renault, Sony, Samsung and Vodaphone (just a few of the names publicised) were not adhering to international standards with regards assessing the chain of supply their cobalt came from. International trade standardsIMG_8808 requires that companies are transparent about they association with human rights impeachments and that they follow a careful path of due diligence to ensure their sources are ethical. However, because these companies were not asking the questions it meant they were not able to disclose the information necsessary to meet with basic international trade standards. Whilst renewable energy is a major part of the fight for climate control, it cannot be achieved through serious human rights violations.

So why is cobalt mining such a problem? The majority of the cobalt mined comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo and is mined by children as young as 7 years of age. They are working 12 hour days sorting through the rocks for the cobalt and are earning no more than €1-2 a day. Many children are however working 24 hour shifts in the mines themselves which amount to tiny unsafe man made tunnels. They are not supplied with appropriate clothing, protective gear or masks despite the hazardous dangers of working with cobalt dust. The children that Amnesty reports speaking to say they regularly suffer ill health.

Fast forward to 2018:

You would imagine that after a report like this became public knowledge that all companies involved would make a quick and needed change to start meeting the required standards. However this has not happened. Two years later only a handful of these big brand names have made adjustments to their cobalt sourcing and it is still not a big enough adjustment. Apple and Samsung have publicised who their smelters are but they have not published any risk assessments taken in relation to these smelters. Other companies have not even done this much. However, out of all the companies Apple is considered the leading brand in attempting to source their cobalt ethically and is working with Huayou Cobalt (largest Cobalt processing company) to identify human rights violations within the supply chain. Huayou Cobalt has also made adjustments since the 2016 report came out although Amnesty reports that gaps remain and therefore it impossible to make a full assessment of whether the due diligence process is being completely adhered to.

Children sorting and crushing cobalt ore in the neighbourhood of Kasulo, Kolwezi, DRC

There is still a huge amount to be done before we can safely say that major electronic and car companies are safely and ethically sourcing their cobalt. There is a greater pressure still to meet these requirements since the government has announced a higher tax

So why is cobalt mining such a problem? The majority of the cobalt mined comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo and is mined by children as young as 7 years of age. They are working 12 hour days sorting through the rocks for the cobalt and are earning no more than €1-2 a day.  Many children are however working 24 hour shifts in the mines themselves which amount to tiny unsafe man made tunnels. They are not supplied with appropriate clothing, protective gear or masks despite the hazardous dangers of working with cobalt dust. The children that Amnesty reports speaking to say they regularly suffer ill health.

Fast forward to 2018:

You would imagine that after a report like this became public knowledge that all companies involved would make a quick and needed change to start meeting the required standards.  However this has not happened.  Two years later only a handful of these big brand names have made adjustments to their cobalt sourcing and it is still not a big enough adjustment.  Apple and Samsung have publicised who their smelters are but they have not published any risk assessments taken in relation to these smelters.  Other companies have not even done this much.   However, out of all the companies Apple is considered the leading brand in attempting to source their cobalt ethically and is working with Huayou Cobalt (largest Cobalt processing company) to identify human rights violations within the supply chain.  Huayou Cobalt has also made adjustments since the 2016 report came out although Amnesty reports that gaps remain and therefore it impossible to make a full assessment of whether the due diligence process is being completely adhered to.

There is still a huge amount to be done before we can safely say that major electronic and car companies are safely and ethically sourcing their cobalt.  There is a greater pressure still to meet these requirements since the government has announced it will ban all new petrol and diesel cars from 2040.  This means the need for cobalt will increase significantly. These companies need to clean up their acts to help us achieve a sustainable and brighter future for all.

 

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