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Chinese firm probes if children work in African mines

© AFP/File | A child and a woman break rocks extracted from a cobalt mine at a copper quarry and cobalt pit in DR Congo

BEIJING (AFP) - 

A Chinese metal trading firm said Thursday it is investigating whether children are toiling in Congolese mines that supply it with cobalt, a key resource for mobile phones and electric cars.

Yantai Cash, a cobalt exporter based in eastern Shandong province, told AFP that it is looking into the supply chain following a request from the London Metal Exchange, which sets prices for the market.

Amnesty International issued a report last week accusing leading technology and electric car companies of failing to ensure that minerals used for batteries are not dug up by children.

Children as young as seven were found scavenging for rocks containing cobalt by researchers in mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo, the report said.

Amnesty said firms including Microsoft, Renault and Chinese tech group Huawei have taken "no action" into how the batteries used in their products could be linked to human rights abuses.

The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that the London Metal Exchange is investigating whether cobalt mined by children is being traded on its exchange after its members raised concerns.

Yantai Cash manager Liu Xiaohan said the company is probing its supply chain with help from RCF Capacity Planners, a Miami-based firm that provides logistics services, and the Chinese chamber of commerce of metal importers and exporters.

The two institutions will build an audit system to "tease out the supply chain according to their guidelines", Liu said.

He said Yantai Cash does not have any personnel or office in the central African country and that the company buys the metal from Chinese ports, not directly from the mines.

Future upstream suppliers to the company will be asked to "make a promise in the contract to provide certification of their current supply chain", Liu said.

Liu refused to name the companies that buy Yantai Cash's cobalt.

Yantai Cash is not named in the Amnesty report.

Another Chinese company, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt, had been identified in a 2016 investigation by Amnesty as a supplier of cobalt bought by its subsidiary in DR Congo.

The latest Amnesty report said Huayou Cobalt was "moving in the right direction" by making efforts to map out its supply chain but "there is significant scope for improvement".

© 2017 AFP