June 12 is the World Day Against Child Labour. The UN estimates that 168 million children are being put to work globally. Many of them are in Africa, particularly in the Congo, where cobalt mining by children is rampant.
According to the UN children's agency, UNICEF, about 40,000 children work in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For a shift of up to 24 hours underground, most earn less than $2 (1.80 euro) a day - many receive half of that.
"The working conditions in the Congolese mines are miserable," Faustin Adeye, who works with the Catholic charity Misereor told DW. "Many children are often physically ruined as a result. There are whole excavations which they dig up with their bare hands using machetes spades."
Adeye said the conditions in some of the cobalt mines located in the southern Democratic Republic of Congo were so bad that at times the children are buried alive when the mines cave in.
Some of the children are as young as 7 years old and many work without any protective clothing, according to the human rights organization Amnesty International.
Do multinationals care?
The coveted raw material is used for making smartphone batteries. Big corporations such as Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and Sony rely on it for their electronic gadgets.
The mineral can also be found in electric cars produced by Daimler and Volkswagen. However, these companies do not want to be associated with child labor. In December, DW asked some of them to comment on the issue.
Daimler, one of Germany's biggest car producers, responded in writing that it required all suppliers to comply with the applicable international rules and laws. The company's guidelines on working conditions, social and ethical standards, and environmental protection went far beyond legal requirements, according to Daimler, which added that the manufacturer expects suppliers to comply with at least the minimum standards.
BMW, another German carmaker, admitted that it has used cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the production of certain batteries. The Munich-based firm announced that it would begin inspecting its suppliers to ensure that there were no human rights violations.
In March, the US tech giant Apple reported that it wanted to stop the purchase of cobalt that had been mined by hand in the Congo.
Hard to resist
The largest cobalt deposits in the world are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to Amnesty International, at least 50 percent of the world's cobalt is mined there. It is therefore impossible to rule out the possibility that cobalt from the Congo would end up with companies all over the world.
About 168 million children work worldwide. The International Labor Organization launched the International Day Against Child Labour in 2002 to draw attention to their plight. It takes place every year on June 12.
This year, the focus will be on how conflicts and disasters affect child labor. Wars and environmental catastrophes threaten human rights. In most cases, children are affected: They often lack access to education or even loses their families. As a result, they are often forced to work.
Author: Meggie Morris (dpa)