Mobile phone batteries run on cobalt mined in the DR Congo

According to the survey conducted by the U.S. Geological Department, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the main reasons why smartphones are running globally.

Data from the survey shows that over 120,000 metric tonnes of cobalt were mined in the Congo. It is estimated that almost one million Congolese citizens are living as modern slaves, with over forty thousand children, some of them as young as six years old, being used as child labor and being sent into mines for cobalt mining. Based on the Corruption Perception Index 2022, Congo got itself to the 166th position out of 180.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently shared an article on the role of Congo in cobalt mining. The article revealed that almost seventy percent of cobalt is taken out of the DRC. These mines mostly exist in the Haut Katanga and Lualaba provinces. These regions are considered the hub for cobalt extraction, whereas other short-scale mining accounts for fifteen to thirty percent of local needs. These short mines use child labour as their workforce, as they are not inspected by the responsible bodies.

The article shared Ziki Swazey’s story. Ziki, an eleven-year-old child laborer, worked in one of the cobalt mines. Being kept away from schools and primary education, Ziki only knew about the mining as he would spend hours working in a harmful environment. At the end of the day, he would receive 1 to 2 dollars, which he would give to his family. In 2018, Ziki left the job and got himself enrolled in school; however, his friends continued to work as child labour.

Cobalt is an essential component for lithium-ion batteries; it ensures that cathodes are not overheated, which can damage the life of the battery. Hence, cobalt plays an important role in extending battery life and is used in almost every rechargeable battery used in a mobile phone or any other battery-powered device.

Although Congo’s law strictly says that child labour is illegal, due to the high cobalt demand and lack of law implementation, the country is unable to prevent children from working in such dangerous places.

Countries including Russia, Australia, the Philippines, Canada, and many more also contribute to the cobalt supply; however, in comparison to the supply coming from Congo, other countries are far behind in numbers.

H/T: Statista

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