For numerous years, prominent technology corporations such as Apple and Tesla have proclaimed to their stylish store and showroom customers that their products are morally sourced and marketed. Here’s the actual truth about Congolese cobalt mines from where iPhones and Teslas come from.
However, recent pictures captured from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 90% of the world’s cobalt originates, producing the batteries that run our tech-based lives, bring forth unsettling inquiries.
Cobalt, a chemical element, can be found in almost every tech device that operates with a lithium battery in the current market, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, and electric vehicles that require a few grams and 10 kilograms, respectively.
Despite the claims of companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Tesla that they hold their cobalt providers to stringent standards and only transact with those who follow their codes of ethics, the photos and videos obtained by DailyMail.com from some of the largest African mines, where several of these providers obtain cobalt, present a contrasting depiction.
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Child laborers without shoes, repetitively breaking rocks for a daily pay of $2, and depleted new mothers who carry their infants while examining rocks in search of valuable cobalt, are depicted in the striking images captured by Siddharth Kara in the Katanga region over recent years.
These images are now being made public ahead of the release of his new book, “Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives“.
The book provides a scathing picture of the Western world’s insatiable need for cobalt and its deadly consequences for African families.
Prior to its publication, Kara, an adjunct lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, told DailyMail.com that his research shows that it is unwise to believe the self-assured claims of big tech.
‘There are hundreds of thousands of the poorest people on the planet [mining for cobalt].
‘The moral clock has been dialed back to colonial times.
‘They’re doing it for $2-a-day and for them, it’s the difference between whether or not they eat that day so they don’t have the option of saying no.’
According to Kara, Congo is suffering greatly as a result of the increasing demand for ecologically friendly cars, which is ironically being pushed by people who care about the environment.
‘It’s supposed to be a green choice, getting an EV. Well it’s not green for everybody.’
The additional risk of cobalt’s toxicity comes together with the immediate issues of overcrowded, unregulated mines.
According to Kara, who has spent years in the Congo conducting studies on the subject, prolonged exposure to cobalt can cause lung disease, deafness, birth problems, and numerous cancers.
‘This is blood diamonds multiplied by a thousand – diamonds aren’t toxic.
‘And you buy a diamond once, maybe twice, in your life, whereas western society can’t function for more than 24 hours without devices that rely on cobalt,’ he said.
One of his videos shows two kids breaking up rocks while being doused in deadly mine chemicals.
They can not be more than seven or eight years old.
Large IT firms including Microsoft, Tesla, Apple, and Samsung have all pledged to stop utilizing cobalt in their products.
They have also relied on the fact that many of the mines are owned and operated by Chinese companies to argue that they are beyond their control.
Tesla struck a multi-year agreement with Glencore, a British-owned mining conglomerate that operates a copper and cobalt mine in the Katanga region, in 2020 to purchase 6,000 tons of cobalt from them.
In 2019, a human rights organization sued Glencore on behalf of the relatives of 19 Congolese children who had perished in a mine run by the business.
The suit also identified the tech corporations as defendants, but a court dismissed them, arguing that proving a link between the dead youngsters and the businesses was too difficult.
Kara is urging American corporations with trillion-dollar valuations to do more.
‘This is not on China. This is on big tech.
‘They are aware of the problems but they look the other way and blame China. China does dominate, but it’s non-sensical to say it can’t be fixed.
‘They initiate demand for cobalt. It starts with them – it is their responsibility.
‘The supply chain only exists because of demand. They all say they source it ethically, they will all say supply chains are ethical but then you go to the Congo and you see it’s not true.’
Elon Musk’s Tesla, which disbanded its public relations staff in 2020, has filed multiple papers with the SEC saying that it is trying to move away from cobalt use.
Musk will reveal the shift during Battery Day in 2020. He did not, however, provide a timeframe for when Tesla would stop using the mineral entirely.
Apple’s list of authorized cobalt sources includes 20 Chinese smelters. Since 2021, 13% of the cobalt shipped in Apple products has come from recycled sources, as the company attempts to wean itself off mining.
Additionally, firms are turning away from cobalt mining for other reasons besides those related to human rights. Cobalt is one of the most expensive components of an electric vehicle and can sometimes make up a third of the retail price due to its restricted supply.
Serbia has cancelled a huge deal with Rio Tinto, an Australian firm, following the deportation of Novak Djokovic from Australia.
Musk’s strategy includes making all of Tesla’s batteries in-house and avoiding the purchase of cobalt for batteries.
There is a continuing global quest for additional cobalt resources.
The world’s cobalt deposits pale in comparison to those of the Congo. DRC had 3.6 million tons of cobalt in its earth as of 2019, which is three times more than Australia.
Cuba, the Philippines, Russia, Canada, China, Madagascar, and North America all have modest quantities.