Why Companies Are Blind to Child Labor


Many companies claim to adhere to strict policies about child labor. For example, Apple says that whenever it finds an underage worker in its supply chain, it sends the child home safely, continues paying his or her wages, and even finances the child’s education and offers employment once doing so is legal. Samsung has said that its contracts with any supplier found to use child labor will be terminated immediately.

Yet a recent report by Amnesty International uncovered a number of cases of child labor among suppliers linked to major technology companies, including Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft, as well as to several automotive manufactures, such as Volkswagen and Daimler AG. It discovered that child labor is being used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to mine cobalt, an element that is used to make lithium-ion batteries found in many tech devices.

In conducting the report, Amnesty International reached out to the implicated companies to ask about child labor in their supply chains and received a common response: Apple and Microsoft said they are unable to verify whether their products use cobalt from the DRC. Daimler said the same, claiming it is unable to verify such information “due to the high complexity of automotive supply chains.” Samsung SDI, which supplies batteries to both Samsung and Apple, also said determining whether its cobalt is mined in the DRC is impossible.

To continue reading, please visit the Harvard Business Review. Reprinted here with permission.



The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily The University of Texas at Austin.

About The Author

Julie Irwin

Professor of Marketing and Business, Government and Society, McCombs School of Business

Julie Irwin joined the faculty in 1999. Her previous faculty appointments were at the Stern School of Business at New York University and the...

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