Amnesty International, in its report published on January 19th, has set its sights on some of the world’s largest technology companies and automakers.

In the report titled This Is What We Die For: Human Rights Abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Power the Global Trade in Cobalt, the organization highlights child labor and human rights abuses in cobalt mines within the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The report alleges these companies, including Apple Inc., Microsoft, Dell, HP Inc., Huawei, Lenovo, LG, Samsung, Sony, Vodafone, Daimler AG, Volkswagen and Chinese firm BYD, can all be linked back to child labor in the DRC through their supply chains.

The report determined that companies along the cobalt supply chain are failing to conduct “adequate human rights due diligence.” It states that companies contacted by Amnesty International were unable to list specific actions taken, such as investigations or inquiries, into child labor within their cobalt supply chains. Find out more in the video below.

Child Labor, Human Trafficking & Modern Slavery

The International Labor Organization (ILO) considers mining to be one of the worst forms of child labor. Mining takes place in a dangerous environment, can harm a child’s health or well-being and exposes them to danger. It also interferes with a child’s education.

But does this equate to modern slavery, or are these children voluntarily working in mines? As far as the United Nations’ Palermo Protocol  is concerned, consent is irrelevant when it comes to a child. The issue is exploitation.

The Amnesty International report describes exploitative working conditions, where children are put to work mining for 12 hours a day, carry heavy loads and earn between one or two dollars for their efforts.

According to the Palermo Protocol, “trafficking in persons means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power … for the purpose of exploitation.”

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation is considered trafficking in persons even if it does not involve any of the means [set forth above].”

Based on the internationally recognized definition above, the use of child labor in the DRC’s cobalt mines can be considered human trafficking and modern slavery. This is significant, as governments are increasingly focused on the elimination of these activities as demonstrated by the implementation of three recent pieces of legislation: the UK Modern Slavery Act, U.S. Federal Acquisition Regulation, and the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act.

Due Diligence and Supply Chains

Amnesty’s report casts a grim outlook on due diligence processes within the DRC cobalt industry.

At least 50 percent of the world’s cobalt comes from the region, according to the report. Despite this volume, Amnesty’s researchers were unable to find cases where companies directly communicated with smelters in the region regarding child labor, human trafficking and modern slavery.

These companies are now under attack from Amnesty for claiming to stand against child labor, while at the same time failing to investigate their own supply chains. In an area as volatile as the DRC, these cobalt smelters should be automatically flagged as high risk and be investigated. The fact they weren’t highlights the importance of implementing due diligence processes throughout the supply chain.

If these processes were not engaged within the DRC, it begs the question of how companies are managing their supply chains in other high-risk areas around the world.

Why You Should Care

Many large companies publicly state that they have a zero tolerance policy for child labor and other human rights violations in their supply chains. However, as highlighted in this report, without investigation into the source of these articles, it is impossible to know that your supply chain is free of these issues.

We’re seeing the ramifications of that right now, as the companies named in this report are under attack in the media and facing major public relations challenges. Not only are executives concerned about human rights violations within their supply chains, but they have an eye on their bottom lines as well. Reputational damage affects that bottom line.

When Apple’s COO addressed the media, it was a clear indication of just how serious this report and its allegations are to the company. They understand how much impact it can have on the business, and you should, too.

The Assent Factor

Assent Compliance has built a comprehensive anti-human trafficking and modern slavery due diligence solution on our #1 rated platform.

This software automatically grades suppliers based on risk and suggests next steps to ensure they are free of human trafficking and slavery activities. It allows companies to easily assess risk throughout their entire supply chain, track the completion of action items at the supplier level, communicate with their suppliers and manage escalation processes.

Educating suppliers is one of the best ways to mitigate risk through the supply chain. Companies have access to Assent University, our learning management system, which includes anti-human trafficking and modern slavery courses specifically designed to teach suppliers how to identify these activities and eliminate them from their operations.

In short, the software makes it easy to identify risky suppliers, to help mitigate that risk, and to make informed decisions throughout their supply chain. Reporting and database functionalities mean when organizations or regulatory bodies have questions about human trafficking or modern slavery within the supply chain, these can easily be answered with quick access to supporting data and documentation.

If due diligence is the problem — and according to Amnesty International’s report, it is — then Assent’s anti-human trafficking and modern slavery software is the solution.

The software module is integrated within Assent’s Compliance Platform, which includes conflict minerals, REACH, RoHS and other regulatory solutions. This is important to note, as the European Union is currently discussing the addition of cobalt to its upcoming DRC conflict minerals regulation.

Should cobalt be added to the list, existing relevant supplier data within Assent’s human trafficking and modern slavery software will already be available within the platform, making it easy for companies to manage both programs simultaneously.

For more information on Assent’s anti-human trafficking and modern slavery module, contact our experts today.

To learn how you can avoid child labor within your supply chain, download our free eBook Human Trafficking, Slavery & Your Supply Chain.

Read Amnesty International’s report here.

Matthew Desrosiers
Director, Content Marketing & Communications

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