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Cobalt – Cleaning Up the Act

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on December 7, 2019 13:28

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Cobalt is essential to a cleaner and greener future. But it is a contentious metal. Child labor is still used in extracting this metal. Cleaning up the supply chain is important for thousands of children and for users.

Someone sent me an image depicting Greta Thunberg calling for electric cars, and a Congolese child digging cobalt to comply. Yes, I have acquaintances who get terribly riled up at the young Swede telling off adults for lazy ethics. As this picture demonstrates. To start with Miss Thunberg’s message, as I understand it, is that science has answers to the energy and pollution problems of the world, and that adults should do their job and seek solutions instead of politicking and polluting.

Lazy ethics. Pic nofrakkingconsensus..com

The cobalt issue is, however, real. Buyers, often with the knowledge of their Governments of origin, pay advance fees to destitute people, forcing them and their children into mining and paying them a pittance for minerals -- not just cobalt -- that gets smuggled out and sold into global supply chains. It is estimated that some 35,000 children are working under conditions little better than slavery. 

http://thelatest.com/uploads/tlt/99505e2d333760821291cbb902164ab3.jpg
No place for children. Photo MISCW.com

Government should do something about it? Well, officials intervene, soldiers and police charge a daily fee to such miners to continue risking life and limb. Rebels in eastern DRC smuggled, it is estimated, $500 million worth of gold to finance their wars. Uranium, tin, tantalite that runs your smartphone are mined illegally. Taxes paid disappear into black holes.

The OECD has laid down guidelines regarding child labor in extractive industries. But major car manufacturers and other users of lithium batteries are slow in adopting these and the standards set by the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Battery to ensure responsible procurement. Governments are unwilling to put impetus behind the United Nations’ initiatives to clean up global supply chains.

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Modern Cobalt Mine in Congo. Photo IM.MINING.com


Cobalt is a sought-after product. Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasted that 33 percent of all vehicles will be electric by 2030, and that demand would increase by 47 times. The mining companies involved see their profits in modern, industrial mining and processing to provide a quality-controlled product to bonafide clients. They cannot afford to avoid taxes, and most, if not all, have social responsibility programs. Artisanal, and child miners, are a problem to them. Some see blockchain technology as a solution to ensuring quality and provenance.

Cobalt - new gold. Photo Minexforum.com

Big mining companies are seeking to professionalise the industry while finding employment and alternative livelihood for artisanal miners. Social support for programs such as the Good Shepherd Sisters makes good business sense by providing stability, creating a potential future work force, and ensuring that mining is not interrupted by artisanal and illegal mining.

Employment, development. Photo ERGAfrica.com


For mining to be sustainable the population in the area has to be developed, not exploited. Cobalt must be mined responsibly, and children belong in school, not in mines. Ms. Thunberg would agree. Or would she?

Disclaimer: I do language work for mining companies in this region. 

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on December 7, 2019 13:28

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Source: WashPost

Photojournalist Lena Mucha photographs the environmental and health impact of cobalt mining in the Congo.

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