Smartphones these days are super-complicated little beasts, and there are so many different components that go into such a device that it can be difficult to track every piece of source material or component that goes into a device. Considering that the rare earth elements and natural resources that go into the manufacture of these devices come from nations with less than perfect labor laws it can be difficult to ensure everything is above board inside of a smartphone. As Amnesty International is saying today, Apple, Samsung and Sony could be manufacturing and selling smartphones that have batteries created with the help of child labor.
The accusations, outlined in a new report from Amnesty International and Afrewatch, center around the use of cobalt in smartphone batteries and some electric cars. Over half of the world’s supply of Cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and 20% of that Cobalt comes from Artisanal mines, as in the type of mines not regulated or ran by a big corporation held accountable by international law. It’s these smaller mines that the child labor is said to have taken place, and Amnesty International has spoken to 87 former miners from these artisanal mine, while 17 of them were children, forced to work day-long shifts in order to bring money home for their families.
All three of these smartphone manufacturers have issues statements regarding these fresh allegations, with Samsung and Apple taking a “zero tolerance” stance meanwhile Sony has released the standard statement of “we are working with the suppliers to address issues related to human rights and labour conditions”. The argument for companies like these has long been that they cannot track every single piece that ends up in their smartphones, and that the responsibility behind individual components rests with suppliers further down the supply chain. Amnesty International disagrees and says that “companies whose global profits total $125 billion cannot credibly claim that they are unable to check where key minerals in their productions come from”.
Unfortunately, these stories appear to be more and more frequent as demand for these devices has increased massively over the last few years. Demand in markets like China and India has bought in millions and millions more of these devices, and wherever there’s money to be made shortcuts will be taken somewhere down the line. The question here is whether or not the responsibility really lies with the companies selling the end product, the suppliers or the governments that let these injustices continue.