ILO aims to eradicate child labor within eight-year deadline

The International Labor Organization has urged a stepped up effort to eradicate child labor within eight years. Half of the world's 28 largest companies have been accused of using cobalt metal that was mined by children.

One in every 10 children across the world are victims of child labor, and almost half of them are performing dangerous work, Director-General of the International Labor Organization (ILO) Guy Ryder warned on Tuesday. 

Ryder acknowledged that the number of child workers had fallen by 100 million since the late 1990s, as he spoke at the opening of a global conference on the issue in Buenos Aires. But he lamented that the rate of change has slowed markedly recently.

"We can't predict how labor markets will change in the future, but we do know one thing: We want no more child labor and no more modern slavery," Ryder told delegates in the Argentinian capital.

According to the latest ILO estimates, there are some 152 million child workers and 25 million victims of forced labor worldwide.

The conference, the fourth of its kind, on Tuesday restated its target of ending child labor by 2025.

Africa highlighted

Ryder's call came as Amnesty International detailed how almost half of the world's 28 largest companies still use cobalt metal that is mined by child labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for use in batteries.

Read more: Invisible Hands - Slavery in the 21st Century

In its report, Time to Recharge, the human rights group named Microsoft, Renault and China's Huawei among others as beneficiaries of child labor.

Bangladesch Kinderarbeit

In the developing world, children are still often put to work in hazardous conditions

Amnesty said children as young as seven were risking their lives and their health to meet the demand for cobalt, due to the growth of battery use in electric cars, smartphones and renewable energy.

The rights group said none of the 29 companies investigated adequately complied with their due diligence obligations to disclose and suppress human rights violations.

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Read more: Migrants: More than 75 percent of Europe-bound youth face exploitation

Closer to home

The German car industry is also guilty, according to its report. While BMW has "improved in some aspects" and scored the best among the automakers, the luxury brand continued to show "significant shortcomings." Volkswagen and Daimler also had "significant deficiencies," Amnesty said.

Politics

Rich resources and violent opportunists

In the unstable eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, treasures like gold and tin attract opportunistic militia. The violent groups exploit people, including children, to mine for "conflict minerals." With the revenue they buy weapons to conquer more territories and perpetuate the fighting.

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Protecting citizens and legal mining operations

MONUSCO, the UN's biggest and most expensive peace-keeping mission, is working to stabilize the provinces of North and South Kivu, which lie at the center of the country's violence. Security forces patrol mining villages like Nzibira, which sits at the edge of Zola Zola, a legal cassiterite mine.

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Paying the human price for mobile phones

Cassiterite is just one of the minerals used in mobile phones. Half of the world's production of those minerals comes from Central Africa. The DRC's export of tin, gold and other ore has been under particular scrutiny since 2010, when laws were introduced in the United States requiring listed US companies to ensure their supply chains were free from "conflict minerals".

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Proving the legality of minerals

A poster in Nzibira explains how sacks of minerals need to be properly sealed and labeled by the mine inspector so their legal origin can be proven to US firms. The system, however, has many gaps. Illicit mines can simply sell their yield on the black market or smuggle their goods into a legal mine to have them packed there.

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Exploitation of children

Despite efforts by rights groups, human rights violations remain widespread in mining operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Children like Esperance Furahaare, who was kidnapped and raped by militia when she was 14 years old, are common victims of exploitation and violence.

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Environmental impact

Mines, which are difficult to police, can also harm the environment and surrounding communities. At illegal mines, waste water runoff often makes its way into local water sources, polluting the supply.

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Unclear future for laws tackling conflict minerals

US lawmakers are currently trying to advance a bill that would eliminate the 2010 reforms. Legislators argue that the Dodd-Frank Act has stifled economic development in the US and has not effectively addressed exploitation in Central Africa. While US companies must ensure their supplies are not conflict minerals, all they are expected to do is ask their suppliers, not supply proof or origin.

While some companies have improved their controls on cobalt supply chains, they are still far from fully meeting the requirement, according to Amnesty's Germany chief, Mathias John.

Allegations were also leveled at other leading electronics manufacturers, including Apple, Samsung and Sony, who continue to benefit from child labor in the DRC, Amnesty said.

The report said all cobalt suppliers are supposed to guarantee human rights in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights and the OECD's Guidelines for Economic Co-operation and Development.

mm/aw (dpa, Reuters)