If you’ve got electronics with a battery – a mobile phone, laptop, water, or electric car – then there is a reasonable chance that parts of it were mined through the gruelling work of miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Cobalt has been in the spotlight in recent years – often called the “
I think it's worth mentioning what one European company is doing: Fairphone.
They have joined the Fair Cobalt Alliance to improve the cobalt supply chain, especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)
Website of the Fair Cobalt Alliance with their steering committee members (with a representative of Tesla too): https://www.faircobaltalliance.org/about-us/governance/
If you asked the miners in the DRC what we should do about conditions in the cobalt industry, I don’t think they would say “please boycott our country and put us out of a job”. It would be great to improve conditions in the DRC but it seems like to do that, we should help their economy, rather than boycotting it.
Solution #4: Drive a plug-in hybrid and use it correctly, i.e. plug it in every night. It reduces the immediate demand for lithium and cobalt while providing basically the same reduction in lifetime carbon emissions, https://www.carboncounter.com/#!/explore .
>Yet the harsh reality is that ASM is one of the best options people have. Remember that more than 60% live on less than $2 per day. Working in a cobalt mine could earn you more than most. That’s why so many people do it, despite the precarious working conditions.
Thank you for making this point. We can't judge anywhere by our standards - the question always must be "What is the alternative?"
What a fantastic data-driven article. You have clearly shown that (1) EVs are (currently) responsible for higher cobalt consumption, (2) the DRC produces the vast majority of cobalt, and (3) an important share of cobalt miners in the DRC are “artisanal” miners who work in pitiful conditions.
Seems like it's on the rich countries to help DRC electrify the production at all levels (as well as the surrounding areas) so that they can retain more value chain. It'll also lead to presumably less dangerous jobs at the refineries and less need for shipping (the other minerals remain in the Congo rather than being shipped to China).
A tangible thing the tech companies can do to make a real difference to these people now, quite easily.
Can’t help but feel that the end-user companies could easily establish a consortium and strike a deal with the DRC government that in exchange for traceability and employment standards, including that all children must be in school and not in the mines, the consortium pays for such schooling and the tech transfer to help home-grow a processing industry. It is not that hard to get a power plant, especially a green one, up and running for specific mines and other industrial purposes. Mining companies (Rio Tinto Alcan, BHP Billiton) have been doing this since forever.
It seems like ASM is a byproduct of extreme poverty, and not a cause of it. If we don't want people to do this sort of work, then we need to actively go into the DRC and give them aid so that people have better opportunities. At 60 dollars a year, a regular american on the order of myself could fund a whole classroom of students. Electrification would be even cheaper.
This is not something that can be solved by instituting SANCTIONS.
How is it, geologically, that the DRC came to have such a high concentration of cobalt?
Excellent work here. I’ve sent this to a handful of folks.
Well researched and written article, laying out the complexity of the issue. How much better life would be if all journalism was as thorough.
Cobalt-free automotive batteries are not "might not be too far off"!
By capacity, almost ONE THIRD of PHEV/BEV batteries this year will be LFP which also don't use problematic nickel. 27% last year. https://www.iea.org/reports/global-ev-outlook-2023/trends-in-batteries
Big in great BYD cars and they would be made in CATL's Michigan factory if we don't let crazed xenophobes crater that deal. Don't catch fire, etc. One of many clean tech products invented in USA which went overseas while we fracked off.