Apple, Samsung Exposed for Using Child Labor in Congo

A number of tech giants, including Apple and Samsung, are once again in hot water over allegations of exploitative labor practices. No, this is not about Apple’s well-paid Genius Bar employees — according to a new report from Amnesty International, 16 multinational corporations profit from dangerous (and often deadly) mining conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an industry that involved 40,000 children in 2014 alone.

Which corporations are being accused of being associated with these serious human rights violations? Included are Apple, Sony, Samsung, Volkswagen, LG, Dell, HP, Microsoft, Huawei, Mercedes and Lenovo (Motorola Mobility) — a virtual who’s who of tech giants.

Lithium-ion batteries are found in nearly every modern tech device, from iPhones to laptops to electric cars. Chances are you’re reading this on a device that contains a lithium-ion battery. What many consumers may not know is that one of the lithium-ion battery’s key components is cobalt. More than half the world’s supply of cobalt comes from Congo alone. And for an enormous number of electronic devices, this is where their story begins.

Sadly, Amnesty International’s report has found that a great deal of the cobalt in Congo is gathered by artisanal (subsistence) miners and, in many cases, children as young as seven. Amnesty spoke with a 14-year-old orphan named Paul who had been mining cobalt since 12. Paul says he “would spend 24 hours down in the tunnels. I arrived in the morning and would leave the following morning.” The pay? Typically one to two dollars daily. His story is but one of thousands.

The conditions under which Congolese miners work are often dangerous. The amateurishly dug tunnels they use are often structurally unsound; digging tools are typically crude or even improvised and safety equipment is unheard of. It should come as no surprise, then, that in a single 15-month period at least 80 miners died; that number is likely much higher, as it is not rare for collapsed mines and the bodies within to remain recovered.

For those who are fortunate enough to avoid collapses, there is the danger of serious, permanent lung disease, thanks to the dust created during the process of cobalt mining.

How does this cobalt end up in the high tech devices used by consumers in the United States? Miners in Congo sell their mineral findings to Chinese-owned Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd via its subsidiary, Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM). From here, CDM/Huayou Cobalt sells the refined cobalt to battery component manufacturers.

Those parts are then bought by groups that put the lithium-ion batteries together before they’re sold off to the next (and last) group of manufacturers (such as Foxconn) who put together the final product. After this, the big names you know — Apple, Samsung, Sony (among others) — take those items and put them on the shelves for consumers to buy.

When Amnesty International confronted 16 corporations about their relationship with CDM/Huayou Cobalt, but only one admitted having a connection. Seven roundly denied the association, despite five of them being listed as customers of battery manufacturers who source from CDM/Huayou Cobalt. Another four played the ignorance card, claiming they didn’t know where their cobalt came from. Six say they are now investigating Amnesty’s claims.

The revelation that tech giants like Samsung and Apple are benefiting from exploitative labor conditions should not really come as a surprise; if anything, it is something to be expected. Only after the harrowing state of Foxconn’s Shenzen factories in 2012 were exposed – in which harsh sweatshop conditions prompted a number of workers to attempt suicide and later, riot — did the tech giants who do business with Foxconn (including Apple and Samsung) push for change, initially claiming innocence via ignorance.

It is clear the same playbook is being put into use to try to explain away this scandal. But, as an Amnesty International spokesman pointed out, if an outside group can uncover where Apple’s cobalt-based parts originate from, it is difficult to believe the United States’ first $700 billion company is incapable of doing the same. Rather, it is a lack of a willingness to do so, and more practically speaking, a lack of an incentive to do so.

Watch this short video created by Amnesty International which illustrates the perilous working conditions cobalt miners face in Congo:

If you believe tech giants like Apple and Samsung need to be held accountable for making sure the components they use in their products are sourced by ethical means, then please sign our petition here!

Photo Credit: Amnesty International / YouTube


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Veronica B.
Veronica B2 years ago

Big Shame companies!

Fi T.
Past Member 2 years ago

No more dirty money, especially that from exploiting the young

Kathryn Irby
Past Member 2 years ago

Petition signed previously! No more Apple or Samsung for me! Thanks for posting.

Berny p.
berny p2 years ago


Kathryn Irby
Past Member 2 years ago

Petition gladly signed! Thank you

FOTEINI chormpou2 years ago

Thank God i don't have any of these two...I'm glad they are exposed!!!

Mark Vaughan

What if you had to walk into a store, and face a seven year old slave and explain, "I really need to stream movies on a five inch screen" before you could buy the phone? Would you still get that latest upgrade?

Mary F.
Mary F2 years ago

Petition is signed. Thank you to all who are as disgusted by these practices as I am!

Lorraine Andersen

For all that Bill Gates gives back, he has been in trouble before for things like this. Not surprising I guess.