A visit to Badger Hill Primary School in Brotton to share the story of Richard, Dorsen and the cobalt children

Please show your support for Dorsen

Thank you Mr OShea and your lovely class for inviting me to share Richard and Dorsen’s story.

Badger Hill Primary School, Brotton

Dorsen, 8, and Richard, 11, were child cobalt miners. They were filmed labouring in a cobalt mine  in DR Congo by Sky News reporter, Alex Crawford and her team.

Just before bedtime, on a cold, dark night in February. 2017, I saw the Sky News report on Richard and Dorsen, child cobalt miners in DR Congo. I have lots of technology containing lithium-ion batteries and now I knew that children, suffering, might have mined the cobalt in them. Thank you, Mr OShea and your lovely class at Badger Hill Primary School, for letting me share Richard and Dorsen’s story with you. Your expressions of care and concern are reassuring and uplifting. Now we need the companies who profit from cobalt to show the same care and concern to Richard and Dorsen and the many thousands of children and adults mining cobalt in dangerous and exploitative conditions.

Since the first film of Richard and Dorsen was published by Sky News on Facebook, it has had 47 million views, making these boys ambassadors for their cause. It is clear that the vast majority of people viewing this film are upset and disgusted that child labour should feature in the smartphone industry, and that exploitation of workers is commonplace. 

Richard and Dorsen are friends. Their mums have died. The boys worked with their fathers who dig for cobalt, a mineral needed to make lithium batteries found in things like smartphones, cameras and cars. This type of mining is not “official”. There are  no safety regulations to protect the workers and no guarantee of a wage at the end of the day. This work is damaging to health and also very dangerous.

Richard and Dorsen’s home was a small and desperately poor community living under plastic sheets supported by sticks. There is no running water, no electricity and little food. The boys worked 12 hour days hauling heavy sacks on their backs. They earned as little as 8p for their day’s work, and often nothing which would mean they went without food.

Many thousands of Congolese people live this way. They dig for cobalt to sell to agents, who then sell it to a company called Huayou Cobalt in China. The cobalt then finds its way into products made by Apple, Dell, Samsung, LG, Vodaphone, Microsoft, Volkswagen, Daimler, and others. Cobalt is valuable but these workers who mine it do not get paid fairly. The Congolese government does not protect worker or children from exploitation. The big companies, like Apple, who use cobalt in their products, do not seem to care that Congolese adults and children are suffering and risking their lives mining cobalt, just to earn enough to buy a little food.

 

DR Congo supplies around 60% of the world’s cobalt. Cobalt is needed to make rechargeable batteries found in things like smartphones, cameras and cars.

I began to tell the story of Richard and Dorsen with a series of photographs, taken from the Sky News film. Here they are:

Mr OShea’s class were very concerned about Richard and Dorsen’s welfare.  These are some of their observations and questions:

  • Why are Dorsen’s and Richard’s eyes bloodshot?

In the film the boys’ eyes are bloodshot because they are working in heavy rain. The boys are also under-nourished and exhausted.

  • It’s unfair that they work so long and so hard for such little money.
  • Why can’t the boys’ fathers be rescued too?

I explained that money has been raised for the boys’ fathers to help them. The men have other family members in the village. There is discussion on how to help the fathers and the community further.

  • Why don’t the companies who put cobalt in their products do more the help these children?
  • Dorsen looks like he is in pain.
  • We are privileged compared to Richard and Dorsen.
  • We have smartphones at home.
  • Can I have a leaflet about Kimbilio?

 

Here’s the Sky News film the children watched:

If we care enough, children’s lives can be transformed

Dorsen and Richard are now supported by the Congo Children Trust which runs the children’s sanctuary, Kimbilio in Lubumbashi, DR Congo. The charity was started by Ian Harvey who has a long history of visiting DR Congo and philanthropic work. Life at Kimbilio is very different for Dorsen and Richard.

Adults can follow Kimbilio on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/kimbilio/

Here are some photos of their new life.

Here are the children of Badger Hill, sending the thumbs up to the children of Kimbilio 🙂

 

The exploitation of cobalt miners in DR Congo continues. Here are a few facts:

  • “Unofficial” mining has been going on for years.
  • Corporates profit from the labour of unofficial miners, including children.
  • The government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo does not enforce laws to protect Congolese workers or children. The regime is inadequate and corrupt.
  • Corporates, like Apple, say they have zero-tolerance to child labour, but not one corporate surveyed by Amnesty International provided any information on whether these policies were implemented in relation to the DRC cobalt supply chain.
  • There are thousands of unofficial, unregulated mines where adults and children work in slave conditions.
  • Exposure to cobalt and breathing in dust fumes can cause long-term health problems.
  • Tunnels are unsupported and can collapse causing injury and death.
  • DRC sits on one of the richest mineral deposits in the world, with huge amounts of gold, tin and cobalt underneath its soil, yet Congolese people do not benefit fairly.
  • DR Congo produces 60% of the world’s cobalt – a fifth of which is extracted by hand by unofficial, artisanal miners known locally as creusseurs. 20% of this unofficial workforce are children.
  • Cobalt collected by small mining operations is sold to mostly Chinese traders who sell it on to the Chinese company called Huayou Cobalt.
  • All of the companies in this supply chain are aware of the suffering of child and artisanal miners. There is no global, enforceable agreement that says they must stop this exploitation.
  • This is Apple’s way of responding. No real action is promised:

“We expect our suppliers to show steady improvement. If year-over-year improvement is not demonstrated by a low-performing supplier, they risk losing our business.” [Apple Supplier Responsibility, 2017. Progress Report, page 4]

Companies must help these children

Amnesty International have concluded that:

Companies have a responsibility to mitigate and take corrective measures for the victims if they have failed to respect human rights at any point during their operations… If human rights abuses have occurred at any point in the supply chain, the company must, in cooperation with other relevant actors, such as its suppliers and national authorities, take action to remediate the harm suffered by the people affected.

We must ask companies to help us support these children to have a life away from the mines.

 

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