Palki Sharma of WION out of New Delhi India is a great source of real news and this segment is a great example. A few minutes of watching small children crushing rocks for the cobalt industry may put you off of owning an electric vehicle for good.
She says, “Hidden beneath the shiny exteriors of an EV is a story of blood batteries. These cars drive human rights violations, extreme poverty and child labor…
“Half of the cobalt produced goes into electric cars. We’re talking about 4 to 30 kilos of cobalt per battery. This metal is found all over the world…but 70% of the total supply comes from one country…the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Let’s zoom into this country. DR Congo is the second largest country in Africa. Its GDP is around $49 billion…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 Congo’s cobalt. Some 200,000 miners work in these mines. At least 40,000 of them are children, some as young as six.
“These children flirt with death daily. They enter vertical tunnels, most of them are too narrow for adults to enter inside. It’s like a furnace. The children dig for cobalt under inhuman conditions, sometimes they have shovels but mostly, they dig with their bare hands.
“They have no masks, no gloves, no work clothes and sometimes just 20 minutes’ worth of oxygen but these young children go on for hours. After digging, they crush the rocks. They wash them and carry their finds 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 be worth $13.63 billion by 2027 but this money never reaches a child who is spotting and extracting the metal.
“In poverty-stricken Congo, even a dollar is worth risking one’s life. Many die trying to make this money…According to one estimate, 2,000 illegal miners die in Congo every year. Many suffer permanent lung damage, skin infection and life-changing injuries. In 2019, some families from Congo filed a lawsuit. They named companies like Tesla; accused them of aiding and abetting in the death and injury of children…
“[Cobalt’s] demand has tripled in the last decade. It is expected to double again by 2035. The demand is being driven by electric vehicles. Today, there are more than 6.5 million EVs on the road. By 2040, that number will touch 66 million, so that’s 66 million multiplied by 30 kilos of cobalt. Do the math.
“By 2050, the demand for cobalt production is expected to increase 585%. Congo’s families want to ride this wave and tide over poverty. Sending their children to the mines is not a choice for them but necessity. These children end up working as artisanal miners or informal workers. They’re not employed by any company but several companies line up to buy their finds.
“You see, it is cheaper to buy cobalt from a child than a regulated mine and who understands business better than China? Most of these companies dealing in blood batteries are from China. It dominates the global supply chain of cobalt. China owns up to 50% of the metal’s production. It controls around 80% of cobalt refining.
“In the last 15 years, Chinese companies have bought-out North American and European companies mining in Congo. Today, Chinese firms own 15 out of the 19 industrial mines in this country.
“In exchange for Congo’s cobalt, China has promised the country billions in investment, in the form of infrastructure, schools and roads.
“Now, Congo is another example of how stories featuring China never end well. Today, China is leaking blood cobalt into the supply chain of electric vehicles. Chinese companies are buying cobalt from children, encouraging them to participate in the trade of blood batteries.
“One of the largest cobalt processors in Congo is a company called CDM or Congo Dongfung Mining. It is a subsidiary of Xiang Huayou Cobalt, a Chinese company. Of course Huayou supplies cobalt to electric car makers like Volkswagen. 40% of Huayou’s cobalt comes from Congo. In 2016, the Chinese company was called out by an NGO. It was branded a benefactor of child labor
“Huayou pledged to clean up its act but did anything change? On the ground, reports raise serious doubts. This is one part of the story. There is blood in China’s large-scale mines, too. There, workers are abused, discriminated, beaten and made to work without contracts and sufficient rations.
“One worker told the media and I’m quoting, ‘If a worker dies, the Chinese don’t report it to the government. They bury the person, hiding the corpse and bribe the family to keep quiet.’
“That’s your electric car killing people, even before it hits the road. Did you sign up for this?
“The world’s biggest car makers are complicit in these crimes. I’m talking about the likes of Tesla, Volvo, Renault, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen. They all source cobalt from Chinese mines in Congo…
“Much like the claim of electric cars being clean, these cars run on dirty energy, on blood batteries and this is not a climate solution. This is human rights abuse and the two cannot coexist.
“Climate solution is not supposed to be at the expense of human lives. Long story short, electric vehicles have miles to go before they can claim to be clean.”