As our demand for smartphones and lithium batteries grows so does the demand for child labour on Cobalt mines in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where families including children as young as 4-years old can be found working in such mines.
According to reports, over 40,000 children are believed to be working in cobalt mines in the country to meet our demands of smart phones and electric cars. “ When I wake up my shoulder’s hurt and my body aches, but I have to keep working because my mother she is already dead, “ Richard, a child in one such mines, told reporters of Sky news network, who were investigating the issue last year.
Children like Richard, can be seen scurrying and picking through huge mountains of rocks looking for chocolate brown strips of cobalt, with their small bare hands, as toxic red dust burns their eyes and puts them under serious risk of skin and lung disease. These children are forced to work long hard hours for a mere 11 cents a day.
The situation for children in the country is expected to worsen as demands for electric products increases. However, companies believe that there is still hope and the lives of millions of children in the region can be saved from traffickers who kidnap or brainwash them and bring them to work in such places forcefully.
In an effort to prevent child labour a pilot project in which Blockchain technology will soon be launched and used to track child labour in mines. The pilot project to be launched this year aims to give manufacturers assurance that the cobalt they source was not mined with child labor.
How will this work?
According to reports, the plan is to give each sealed bag of cobalt produced by vetted artisanal miner a digital tag, which is entered on the blockchain using a mobile phone, along with details of the weight, date, time and also a photo.
The bag will then be sold and the traders buying the bag will have to record the details on the blockchain and this process will be repeated until it gets to a smelter. The idea of this is to get everyone in the supply chain involved, in ensuring that no child labour has been used.
Can the project succeed?
Companies throughout the world including Chinese manufacturers have pledged to stop child labour in the mines and have formed the ‘Responsible Cobalt Initiative’ which has been joined by giants like Samsung and Apple and Huawei — to address the problem.
But the success of the project is still not guaranteed as observers, including Sheila Warren, head of blockchain policy at the World Economic Forum, said the prevalence of conflict, lawlessness, and an opaque legal system in the DRC were outstanding challenges to blockchain succeeding. “The technology is not the hard part,” she said. However implementing it in a country where there is lawlessness and poverty is difficult.
While Amnesty International, researcher Mark Dummet commented that to deal with the problem we also need to take into account the political and socio-economic problems in the country–“You have to be wary of technological solutions to problems that are also political and economic, but blockchain may help. We’re not against it.”
*Prabalta Rijal is a human rights journalist who has been working with various media houses for the past 12 years now. She began her career in journalism as a volunteer at a government-run National English Daily, The Rising Nepal. In August 2014, She began working for the Norway Based Human Rights news portal The Oslo Times, where she worked as The Chief International Correspondent. Today she works independently as a freelancer raising her voice against all forms of Human Rights abuses in Nepal and around the world. About the author, Prabalta Rijal