On February 15 Patently Apple posted a report titled "Apple's Need for Slave Labor Clearly Overrides their Argument that a U.S. Plant is Impossible due to Supply Chain Issues." This week another shocking report was published by the U.K's Sky News about cobalt mining in Congo that widely uses child labor as young as four years old to dig for cobalt with their hands. Apple and Samsung use cobalt in their respective smartphones and the children get 10 to 12 cents a day (8 pence) to work in the mines. Is that not slave labor? While you can window dress it or simply deny it's even happening, it is what it is: slave labor.
The source is Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Company, a Chinese firm that is the largest buyer of artisanal cobalt in Congo and whose minerals are used in Apple products.Yet only after the story broke did Apple decide to make a statement that they would stop buying cobalt mined by hand in Congo until conditions improve and child labor is stopped.
If a reporter was able to find out about the conditions of the mine and even film it, then why couldn't Apple have found that? Especially after the searing report by the BBC in 2014 accusing Apple of closing their eyes to child labor and poor working conditions at other mines, you would think that they would have doubled their efforts so as to never be caught supporting such suppliers in the future. But once again Apple has shown their concern after the fact.
The Washington Post reported on this on Friday by stating that "Last year, Apple pledged to clean up its cobalt supply chain, but the technology giant said it wanted to avoid hurting the Congolese miners by cutting them off. Mining provides vital income for hundreds of thousands of people in what is one of the world's poorest countries. Now, Apple says it has stopped — for now — buying cobalt from artisanal mines."
While Apple knew about this for a year, it's only now that the mine was recently on TV for all the world to see that they moved quickly from talk to PR damage control and action. Yet in the end, the iPhone machine must stay on schedule and Apple will do whatever they have to do to ensure they get their iPhones to market. That's the brutal reality, child labor or not.
The Sky News report went on to add that "None of them wore gloves or masks, yet the World Health Organization 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 tumor 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."
Becha Gibu, a doctor in the village of Kimpesa, said many of the babies he delivered had mysterious illnesses. You could read more about the report here.
At the end of the day, it's very difficult not to read about this story and see the film and not see it as total hypocrisy from a company who takes up human rights issues in the United States oh-so loudly and publicly. Apple could have dealt with this issue a year ago according to the Washington Post, yet basically chose not to in the hopes that it would all just fade away with the next news cycle. And it did until last week.
While this is definitely an industry problem, most Apple fans expect more from Apple than PR statements and shifting work to another slave camp not under scrutiny in order to get the material they need for iDevices.
But now take a deep breath, look in the mirror and ask yourself: Will I stop buying my favorite tech toys to save the children around the world from slave labor and unhealthy work conditions? If we collectively did just that, the industry would move heaven and earth to address the issue overnight to stop their stocks from crashing.
Yet honesty tells us that 99% of consumers will pretend they didn't see the video or read the story about this issue. The majority of consumers will excuse it away just like the companies do. So before anyone screams at Apple too loudly, will you make the needed sacrifice to help the children in labor camps? I didn't think so, and companies like Apple, Samsung and others know that all too well.