It's Capitalism, Stupid...
A Sky News investigation has found children as young as four working in 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 as Apple and Samsung, yet many of those working to extract it are earning as little as 8p a day in desperately 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 in the central African nation.The Sky News team visited a string of mines in 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 in the drenching rain carrying huge sacks of the mineral.
Dorsen, eight, had no shoes and told us he hadn't made enough money
to eat for the past two days - despite working for about 12 hours a
His friend Richard, 11, talked about how his whole body ached
every day from the tough physical work.
The mine tunnels are dug
by hand by miners who have no protective equipment. The tunnels have
no supports and are prone to collapse, especially in the rain.
one mine we travelled to, workers had downed tools in support of a
fellow miner who had died after one such collapse.
thousands of unofficial, unregulated, unmonitored mines where men,
women and children work in what can only be described as slave
conditions. In one group, we found a circle of children with a
four-year-old girl picking out cobalt stones.
younger than her were sitting among the mineral or playing nearby. A
pregnant woman already carrying a toddler on her back was also in the
group. None of them wore gloves or masks, yet the World Health
Organisation says exposure to cobalt and breathing in its dust fumes
can cause long-term health problems.
Certainly, many of those
involved in the mining industry believe they're suffering poor health
as a result.
Makumba Mateba has a huge tumour on his throat which
he believes has grown because the water in his village is
contaminated by cobalt mining.
He said: "We only drink the
water which comes from the mining sites after all the minerals have
been washed in it. "It comes right through our village and I
drink it and I'm sure it's that which has made me sick."
Monica, four years old, picks out cobalt stones at a mine.
At one cobalt mine, children toiled in the drenching rain carrying huge sacks of the mineral. Dorsen, eight, had no shoes and told us he hadn't made enough money to eat for the past two days - despite working for about 12 hours a day.
Becha Gibu, a doctor in 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 bodies are covered in spots," he said.
"The mothers are also just not strong when giving birth - this is all a consequence of the mining."
The DRC sits on one of the richest mineral deposits in the world, with huge amounts of gold, tin and cobalt underneath its soil. It produces 60% of the world's cobalt - a fifth of which is extracted by hand or artisanal miners known locally as creusseurs.
Cobalt collected by small mining operations is sold to mostly Chinese traders, who we filmed secretly. They don't ask questions about where their cobalt comes from or who has worked to extract 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.