Meet Dorsen, 8, who mines cobalt to make your smartphone work

By Alex Crawford, Sky News Special Verslaggever

A Sky News investigation has found children spil youthful spil four working ter Congolese mines where cobalt is extracted for smartphones.

The mineral is an essential component of batteries for smartphones and laptops, making billions for multinationals such spil Apple and Samsung, yet many of those working to samenvatting it are earning spil little spil 8p a day te despairingly dangerous conditions.

With little regulation requiring companies to trace their cobalt supply lines, and most of the world’s cobalt coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the chances are your smartphone contains a battery with cobalt mined by children ter the central African nation.

The Sky News team visited a string of mines te the DRC’s former Katanga Province and found children working at all of them.

Eight pence a day for backbreaking work

At one cobalt mine, children toiled te the soaking rain carrying phat sacks of the mineral.

Dorsen, eight, had no boots and told us he hadn’t made enough money to eat for the past two days – despite working for about 12 hours a day.

His friend Richard, 11, talked about how his entire figure ached every day from the rough physical work.

The mine tunnels are dug by arm by miners who have no protective equipment. The tunnels have no supports and are prone to collapse, especially te the rain.

At one mine wij travelled to, workers had downed implements te support of a fellow miner who had died after one such collapse.

There are thousands of unofficial, unregulated, unmonitored mines where dudes, women and children work te what can only be described spil sub conditions.

Te one group, wij found a circle of children with a four-year-old woman picking out cobalt stones.

Other children junior than hier were sitting among the mineral or playing nearby. A pregnant woman already carrying a toddler on hier back wasgoed also ter the group.

None of them wore gloves or masks, yet the World Health Organisation says exposure to cobalt and breathing ter its dust fumes can cause long-term health problems.

Certainly, many of those involved te the mining industry believe they’re suffering poor health spil a result.

Makumba Mateba has a giant tumour on his mouth which he believes has grown because the water ter his village is contaminated by cobalt mining.

He said: “Wij only drink the water which comes from the mining sites after all the minerals have bot washed te it.

“It comes right through our village and I drink it and I’m sure it’s that which has made mij sick.”

Mystery illnesses

Becha Gibu, a doctor ter the village of Kimpesa, said many of the babies he delivered had mysterious illnesses.

“There are lots of infections they’re born with, sometimes rashes, sometimes their bods are covered ter catches sight of,” he said.

“The mothers are also just not strong when providing birth – this is all a consequence of the mining.”

The DRC sits on one of the richest mineral deposits te the world, with enormous amounts of gold, tin and cobalt underneath its soil.

It produces 60% of the world’s cobalt – a fifth of which is extracted by palm or artisanal miners known locally spil creusseurs.

Cobalt collected by puny mining operations is sold to mostly Chinese traders, who wij filmed secretly.

They don’t ask questions about where their cobalt comes from or who has worked to samenvatting it – they just want the best price.

Traders then sell it mostly to exporter Congo Dongfang International, a subsidiary of Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, which supplies most of the world’s largest battery makers.

The supply line is chaotic, informal and unregulated, with unofficial, non-standardised prices paid out to groups, individuals and larger networks.

The cobalt supply line

Te 2016, Amnesty International found that no country legally requires firms to publicly report their cobalt supply chains – permitting multinationals effortless deniability.

And it has bot reported that Donald Trump is set to kwestie a fresh executive order that would switch roles regulatory controls designed to prevent US companies profiting from “conflict minerals” mined ter the DRC and neighbouring countries.

A number of tech and automotive firms Sky News contacted said they would review their protocols, but would rather improve conditions than make a clean pauze from established supply chains.

Apple, whose response referenced the specific mine te our report, said it told one of its smelters, Huayou Cobalt, to suspend sourcing from artisanal mines.

But it said it would not sever all ties with artisanal mines spil that “would be harmful to communities who rely on this mining for their income”.

An Apple spokesperson added: “Apple is deeply committed to the responsible sourcing of materials for our products and wij’ve led the industry ter establishing the strictest standards for our suppliers.

“Wij know our work is never done, and wij will proceed to drive our standards deep ter our supply chain. If our suppliers are incapable or unwilling to meet our standards then wij suspend or terminate business with them.”

Speaking to Sky News, a Huayou spokesperson said the rock hard “pays attention” to child labour issues and wasgoed “monitoring” its supply chain.

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