This is how Amnesty International is working with companies to cut supply chain abuses

A group of cobalt miners in Mpaza, Nyanza, Rwanda. Photo by: Alan Whelan / Trócaire / CC BY

SAN FRANCISCO — Cobalt is a key component of the lithium-ion battery, the rechargeable battery of choice for portable electronics and, increasingly, electric cars. Artisanal miners — a term for impoverished workers who mine by hand — are responsible for 20 percent of the world’s cobalt production. And from child labor to tunnel collapses to lung disease, the growing demand for this mineral, which is expected to double by 2025, comes at a high human cost.

In a new report called Time to Recharge, Amnesty International ranks electronics and car companies according to steps they have taken to improve cobalt sourcing practices. As the demand for rechargeable batteries grows, the focus of human rights organizations is shifting to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than half of the world’s cobalt supply originates, and to the extractives industry. Nearly two years after an Amnesty International investigation exposed links between batteries and child labor in the central African country, progress has been slow in stopping human rights abuses in cobalt supply chains, according to the report.

On Tuesday, Devex attended a roundtable in San Francisco with Shalil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International; Danielle Cass, who recently left the U.S. Agency for International Development to work on Silicon Valley engagement for Amnesty; and a range of other industry leaders, activists, and journalists. They discussed the individual performance of companies, explaining, for example, how Apple is engaging with the Chinese processing company Huayou Cobalt, both of which were represented at the meeting, to address child labor.

On several occasions, the group looked at page 78 of the report, which features overall company ratings, in a conversation that demonstrated how advocacy organizations can go beyond naming and shaming companies to partnering with them to change their practices.

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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported from all over the world, and freelanced for outlets including the Atlantic and the Washington Post. She is also the West Coast ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that trains and connects journalists to cover responses to problems.