A story of blood batteries lies beneath the gleaming surface of an electric vehicle, since these vehicles promote child labor, extreme poverty, and human trafficking. You already know that a car battery powers an electric vehicle, but do you know what materials these batteries are constructed of? Cobalt gives the battery stability and enables safe operation, together with rare metals like lithium. It’s a blueish grey metal found in the earth crust. Cobalt has several uses, lighting jet turbine generators, tool materials, pigments and smartphone batteries but its major use is in lithium ion battery. Half of the cobalt produced goes to the electric cars. Each battery contains 4 to 30 kg of cobalt. Although this metal can be found all over the world, including in Australia, Canada, China, Cuba, South Africa, the United States, and the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo accounts for 70% of the world’s supply.
Let’s zoom into this country, DR Congo is the second largest county in Africa, its GDP is around 49 billion dollars. Congo is enormous with conflict, poverty and corruption. Beneath the country radar its the world’s largest deposit of cobalt. 92 million people live here and some 2 million depend on cobalt production. Cobalt mining in congo is divided into two categories, industrial or large scale mining, and artisanal or small scale mining. What’s the difference between the two? Artisanal mines are unregulated, labor laws do not apply here neither do safety protocols. These mines produce 20 to 30% of Congos cobalt. Some two hundred thousand miners work in these mines. At least 40000 of them have children some as young as 6. These children’s flirt with death daily. They enter vertical tunnels most of them are too narrow for adults to enter.
Inside is like a furnace. The children dig for cobalt under inhumane conditions. Sometimes they have shovel but mostly they dig with their barehands, no masks, no gloves, no work clothes and sometimes just 20 mins worth of oxygen. But these children’s go on for us, after digging they crash the rocks, they wash them, and carry their fines to the market to find a buyer. How much do these children make? Sometimes as little as a dollar! Cobalt is a multi billion dollar industry it is estimated to worth 30.6 billion dollars by 2027 but this money never reaches the child. Who is extracting and exporting the metal. According to one estimate, 2000 illegal miners die in Congo every year, many suffer a permanent lung damage, skin infection and life changing injuries. In 2019 some family from congo filed a lawsuit they named companies like Tesla, accused them of aiding and abetting in the death and injuries of children.
The lawsuit spoke about a child was referred to as John Doe I. John was working as a human mule since the age of 9 he carried bags after bags of cobalt just for 0.75 dollars a day. One day John fell into a tunnel fellow workers drag him out it. But they left John alone on the ground when the child parents found out about the accident they rushed to the mining site it was too late. John was paralyzed, doctors said he would never be able to walk again. Why do children work to these high risk mines? Because of poverty and a hope to get out of it. The metal demand has triple for decades. It is expected to double again by 2035. The demand has been driven by electric vehicles. Today there more than 6.5 million EVs on the road. By 2040 that number will times 66 million so that 66 million multiply by 30 kilos of cobalt, do the math.
Climate solution is not supposed to be at an expense of human lives, long story short electric vehicles have miles to go before they can claim to be clean.