An essential ingredient in lithium-ion batteries that power millions of smartphones as well as plug-in electric cars, cobalt is in heavy demand. The silverish-gray metal has established itself as a critical element in the growth of the market in electric vehicles white elites love to drive around in and brag about.
The majority of the world’s cobalt production is concentrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where children work in hazardous conditions mining the metal.
The work is highly dangerous. Workers use picks and shovels to dig up cobalt and child labor is common.
A 2016 report from Amnesty International cited estimates from UNICEF that about 40,000 boys and girls work in mines across the Congo, many of them at cobalt sites.
As with adult miners, the children are exposed to high levels of cobalt and work without gloves or masks, the report said.
Electric vehicles supporters are basically OK with all the problems associated with the mining of cobalt. They really don’t give these children a second thought. After all they’re black, and far away in Africa. Furthermore, they say the market will sort all these “supply-chain” issues.
However, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that as electric vehicles move from niche-market status to mainstream acceptance, cobalt demand is surging. California policymakers have pushed zero-emissions vehicles as essential to meet the state’s mandates to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Gov. Jerry Brown has set a target of 1.5 million clean-energy vehicles on California’s roads by 2025. In his final State of the State address last month, Brown ratcheted the number even higher — to 5 million zero-emission vehicles by 2030.
That’s bad news for children in the Congo.