Amnesty International has released a report claiming that major technology companies including Samsung and Apple use cobalt metal from mines in Congo that allegedly exploit child labour.
Cobalt is an essential part of lithium-ion batteries that are found in most portable consumer electronics including phones, laptops and electric vehicles.
Amnesty has accused technology giants including Apple, Samsung and Sony of lax oversight of the supply of cobalt from mines in Congo to smelters and on to battery-makers.
The report, Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt, argues that the failure of companies to properly oversee their cobalt supply chains allows the illicitly mined material to enter the market.
“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 manmade tunnels risking permanent lung damage,” said Mark Dummett, human rights researcher at Amnesty International.
“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.”
Apple responded with an official statement that said it had a zero tolerance policy towards child labour and was evaluating ways to improve its identification of labour and environmental risks.
Samsung said it conducted written evaluations and on-site inspections of all suppliers to certify compliance with human rights, labour, ethics, environment and health standards, while Sony has not commented on the accusations so far.
Millions of Congolese inhabitants work in informal mining, with rudimentary tools and usually without legal authorisation. They often scavenge in the waste heaps of larger mines.
17 children from five mines were interviewed for the report who said children as young as seven scavenged for rocks containing cobalt.
This is not the first time that Apple and other technology giants have been accused of using unethical production methods.
Foxconn Technology is the world's largest electronics manufacturer and is contracted by almost all of the major technology brands to produce consumer gadgets.
In the past it has acknowledged hiring teenagers as young as 14 in its Chinese factories and workers have complained of excessive working hours and poor conditions.