What’s Green About This? The DRC is the world’s largest producer of cobalt

The production of electric vehicles depends on minerals that are increasingly unavailable for mining in the US, causing their production to be outsourced to places like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The DRC is the world’s largest producer of cobalt, a key component of lithium-ion batteries used in EVs, cell phones, and computers. Unfortunately, the production of cobalt is marred by human rights violations, particularly involving child labour.

According to Siddharth Kara’s book Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives, cobalt production in the DRC involves the exploitation of Congolese slaves, many of them children. The multinational corporations that sell cobalt earn huge profits, while the Congolese people live in poverty and are subjected to slavery, human trafficking, debt bondage, and the poisoning of their soil and water.

In Lualaba, Democratic Republic of Congo, it is estimated that 8,850 children are present in the artisanal sites of the Cobalt mines. The majority are girls (52%). In Haut-Katanga, the number of children working in the mines is estimated at 6,000 (50% girls) while the number of young people who are with their parents is estimated at 2,500 (48% women). According to UNICEF, 34.8% of children and adolescents are outside the school system (5-17 years old) in the two provinces. (Video credits – Actions for the Development of Africa ADA NGO)

The demand for cobalt is expected to rise by 500% by 2050, while over 75% of Congolese live in poverty, with limited access to clean water and electricity. Many children as young as six work in mines, earning as little as $1-2 daily. The cobalt is sold to industrial processors, joint ventures between Congo’s state-owned mining corporation and CCP-linked and funded Chinese companies.

This has allowed Chinese companies to secure plants with military force, operate without human rights considerations, and engage in low-ball bidding.

The semi-refined cobalt is then transported to commercial-grade refineries in China, as Congo lacks the electricity required for the process. In 2021, China produced 75% of the world’s refined cobalt. Congo’s leaders have allowed Chinese companies to run riot, ravaging the land and its people, while armed guards patrol the area and inflict violence and sexual assault to subdue the populace. The mining has also killed agriculture, increased exposure to radioactivity, and caused severe air and water pollution.

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