Big brands are failing to tackle child labour abuse in cobalt supply chains, Amnesty International report says

Courtney Goldsmith
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Amnesty said its initial investigation found that cobalt mined by children and in poor conditions was in the supply chains of big brands (Source: Getty)

Electronics giants are failing to tackle child labour abuses in cobalt battery supply chains, Amnesty International will today allege.

A new report follows nearly two years after Amnesty first exposed a link between batteries used in certain companies' products and child labour in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The report measures the progress firms like Apple and Microsoft have made to their cobalt-sourcing practices.

More than half of the world's cobalt - a key element in lithium-ion batteries - comes from the DRC, where Amnesty has recorded human rights abuses.

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The group found Microsoft, Chinese tech firm Lenovo and French carmaker Renault were among the worst at making improvements to their supply chains, while it said telecoms group Vodafone had taken a "very narrow" approach to investigating its supply chain.

Microsoft said it "does not tolerate child labour or hazardous practices in its supply chain" and that it had taken "significant" steps to address this within its supply chain. “There is still more to be done, but we believe that this report does not reflect the detailed accounting of our work that was provided to Amnesty," a spokesperson said.

Lenovo said is taking "direct action" through the cross-industry Responsible Minerals Initiative and "remains committed to meeting or exceeding all international laws regarding human rights".

Renault did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while Vodafone said it was working to increase its scrutiny of the cobalt in its supply chain and was "disappointed" this was not reflected in the report.

Seema Joshi, head of business and human rights at Amnesty, said companies were "still making excuses for not investigating their supply chains".

"Even those who are investigating are failing to disclose the human rights risks and abuses they find."

Apple earlier this year became the first company to publish the names of its cobalt suppliers, and Amnesty named it the industry leader in responsible cobalt sourcing.

The report also comes at a critical time following the government's decision to ban all new petrol and diesel cars from 2040.

Joshi said: “As demand for rechargeable batteries grows, 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.”

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