The report documents how traders buy cobalt from areas where child labor is rife and sell it to Congo Dongfang Mining (CDM), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chinese mineral giant Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Ltd (Huayou Cobalt).
Amnesty International’s investigation uses investor documents to show how Huayou Cobalt and its subsidiary CDM process the cobalt before selling it to three battery component manufacturers in China and South Korea. In turn, they sell to battery makers who claim to supply technology and car companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Sony, Daimler and Volkswagen.
This is heartbreaking, and I hope that the companies implicated in the report will put pressure on their battery suppliers to rectify this.
You may be wondering how this could happen, considering that tech companies have, for a while, been posting supplier codes of conduct. Apple has one (PDF), as do Samsung and Microsoft, and they all state that they require suppliers not to use conflict materials at any point of the supply chain. This is required by U.S. federal law per Dodd-Frank. However, the only “conflict minerals” disallowed by Dodd-Frank are tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold — cobalt is not subject to these or similar federal regulations. Ideally, all raw materials could be amended to these regulations to prevent the use of anything that benefits child labour, war criminals, and the like. As the U.S. consumer electronics market is one of the world’s largest, this would effectively require the supply chain to be provably conflict free.