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Child Labor Discussed On Mining of Cobalt in The Democratic Republic of Congo

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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 county 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

DRC. 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 on the periodic table. It's used to make everything from paint and jet engines to steel, from glass and tile to batteries, especially the rechargeable kind. It's not just electric cars that utilize significant amounts of cobalt. Though car makers including Daimler, BMW and Volkswagen are all saying their taking steps to insure their electric vehicles don't use cobalt that's mined by children. Still, as 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: 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 make-shift 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 cost? There is growing evidence that the cobalt supply chain uses child labor. Companies say they're working hard to verify the source of all the hand mined alltismal 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 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 see 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. We've now witness 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 onto a variety of different vehicles.

I'm going to jump into this car that's headed to one of the main, public selling cobalt depots. I'm told we're going to pass to market. This is where the cobalt is bought by brokers. It's where it first enters the supply chain. The car company Tesla for one, says it's 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. Altismal cobalt 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. 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 investigations.

A police officer arrives and we're told we need to leave for 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 trucks used by one of the main international cobalt supply firms, China's Congo DongFang Mining,

CDM. We decide to follow it. 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 riverfront and the global markets.

As the truck pulls into its final destination, guards rush out to block our cameras. We later receive 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.

Zach's (ph) 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.

Their 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 permissions, we eventually had to resort to filming undercover to capture the children. We couldn't prove where exactly the dirty cobalt enters the international supply chain but we witnessed that it does.

Mercedes Benz, Tesla, Lithia 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 it's complex nature.

Car makers simply cannot promise consumers their products are 100 percent child labor free. This is the Altismal Mining Cooperative called Casula.

It's run by the main international supplier, CDM. Rows and rows of red trucks like the one we followed await pick up 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 governs their supply but this is the exception not the norm.

The cobalt from Casula accounts for less than a quarter of the country's altismal cobalt export. Here the ministry of mining has to countersign the certificate of origin to be considered valid. So the very same entity who's officials CNN found complicit and hiding the presence of child labor at the altismal mines we visited is responsible for certifying the cobalt is here is child labor free. After 10 days in Congo, our contacts advised us to leave for 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 igneous of the Congolese presidential guard. We witnessed mining ministry 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 certification. But from what we 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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