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CNN 10

Child Labor in Cobalt Trade

Aired May 3, 2018 - 04:00   ET


CARL AZUZ, CNN 10 ANCHOR: I`m Carl Azuz for CNN 10. We`re glad you`re watching today.

This show is centered on an in-depth report that concerns child labor, a large African country and the element of cobalt. We`re explaining how all

those things are tied together.

First, the issue of child labor. The United Nations defines this as work done by children that puts them in danger or at a disadvantage. It might

include slavery. It might include employing children who are too young to do a certain kind of work. It requires them to work instead of going to

school or in addition to it. And child labor is against international law.

Despite that, a recent CNN investigation found that child labor is used in mining cobalt. This was uncovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the


The Central African nation is the second largest country on the continent. It`s home to about half of the cobalt in the world and in recent decades,

the DRC has struggled with instability and conflict that may factor into why some of the cobalt that comes from there is mined from children.

Cobalt is a metallic element, atomic number 27 in the period table. It`s used to make everything from paint and jet engines to steel, from gas and

tile to batteries, especially the rechargeable kind. It`s not just electric cars that utilize significant amounts of cobalt, though carmakers

including Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen are all saying they`re taking steps to insure their electric vehicles don`t use cobalt that`s mined by


Still, a CNN reporter Nima Elbagir found it`s hard to know for sure, at least in the DRC, what`s mined by children and what isn`t.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Christian and his friends are digging 20 meters down, taking turns at 24-

hour shifts. There`s no light and little oxygen, but what they bring up is precious.

This is the start of the supply chain leading all the way from this makeshift mine to your luxury battery powered car.

The sacks are full of cobalt ore, a crucial component in lithium ion batteries set to power the coming green energy revolution, but at what


There is growing evidence that cobalt supply chain uses child labor.

Companies say they are working hard to verify the source of all their hand- mined artisanal cobalt but that it`s a difficult task.

We`re here to follow the supply chain and see if we can do it for them. Before we set out, even the local governor warns us to expect to see

children at work.

We arrive at the Musonoi river mine where the cobalt ore is washed to grind it down. Although we`ve been given permission to film here, as soon as

they see us, officials begin to scare the children away.

Not all of them though are fast enough. Some work on.

One young boy staggers under his load. His friend sees the camera and he drops his sack. They`ve clearly been warned.

A mining ministry official spots this boy carrying cobalt has been captured by our cameras. His response is brutal. Later we ask him why he struck

the child. He refused to answer.

(on camera): We`ve now witnessed for ourselves that children are working here, that they are involved with the production of cobalt and we`ve seen

the products of that child labor loaded on to a variety of different vehicles. I`m going to jump into this car that`s headed to one of the main

public selling cobalt selling depots.

(voice-over): I`m told we`re going to Kobasa (ph) market. This is where the cobalt is bought by brokers. It`s where it first enters the supply


The car company Tesla for one says its cobalt sources are audited and issued with certificates of origin. They wouldn`t say from where or how

but there is no sign of certification here.

We watched the brokers set the price and none of them ask where the cobalt is from or how it was mined. But the mining output tripled and the fear is

even more children are being pressed into labor.

Why? Because cobalt is skyrocketing in price. Supplying your green electric car comes at a cost.

We have permission to film here but local mining officials once more try to stop us. Our producer captures the scene on a hidden camera.

The government says it`s working to combat child labor but the same mining ministry officials tasked with enforcing an ethical supply chain have been

the ones attempting to block our investigation.

A police officer arrived and we`re told we need to leave for our own safety. We do -- but not before we spot a red truck loaded up and leaving

the very same market. It matches the distinctive red of the truck used by one of the main international cobalt supply firms, China`s Congo Dongfang

Mining, CDM.

We decide to follow it.

(on camera): We can`t afford to lose him because where he delivers that cobalt load, that is the link between the children that you saw down there

on the river front and the global markets.

(voice-over): As the truck pulls into its final destination guards rush out to block our cameras. We later received a warning phone call. This

facility is under the protection of the presidential guard. We`re told to stay away.

What`s going on? That appeared to be a CDM truck but this isn`t a CDM facility. Tax records show it was declared non-operational three years

ago. Rising smoke and export records show cobalt is still produced here.

CDM`s parent company Huayou tells CNN they did have a relationship with the facility which ended only last year. They`re disturbed enough to launch an

investigation into our findings although they state, other companies also use red trucks.

CNN visited three sites to show how widespread the use of child labor is. At this mine, in spite of our permission,we eventually had to resort to

filming undercover to capture the children.

PRODUCER: How old is he?

FATHER: Nine years old.

ELBAGIR: We couldn`t prove where exactly the dirty cobalt enters the international supply chain but we witnessed that it does.

Mercedes-Benz, Tesla, Fiat Chrysler among others say they have a zero tolerance policy for the use of child labor but they acknowledge they are

unable to fully map their supply chain due to its complex nature. Car makers simply cannot promise consumers their products are 100 percent

child-labor free.

This is the artisanal mining cooperative called Kasulo (ph). It`s run by the main international supplier CDM. Rows and rows of red trucks like the

one we followed await pickup here. Access and entry are controlled to block the presence of children and certificates of origin CDM say are

dispensed in controlled circumstances.

This is what the big brand names who source their cobalt from Congo believe govern their supply. But this is the exception, not the norm. The cobalt

from Kasulo accounts for less than a quarter of the country`s artisanal cobalt exports.

Here, the ministry of mining has to countersign the certificate of origin to be considered valid. So the very same entity whose officials CNN found

complicit in hiding the presence of child labor at the artisanal mines we visited is responsible for certifying the cobalt here is child-labor free.

After 10 days in Congo, our contact advised us to leave for our own safety. But what have we learned? At the main markets, nobody asks where the

cobalt for sale is mined or how. We followed a truck to an operation that is pumping dirty cobalt into the international supply chain under the aegis

of the Congolese presidential guard.

We witnessed mining ministry officials harassing children to hide them from our cameras while others blocked our filming. All employed by the same

Congolese authority car makers entrust to issue the certification.

But from what we`ve witnessed it`s clear, no manufacturer can fully assure you that your electric car is truly ethical. And as demand for essential

cobalt soars, it`s children like this little boy who are paying the real price.

Nima Elbagir, CNN, Kolwezi, the Democratic Republic of Congo.