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Climate change and energy

Our love of batteries is powering a boom in exploitative cobalt mines

February 20, 2018

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, some mines known to use child labor are benefiting from the electrification of our economy.

Backstory: The world wants lithium-ion batteries. But one of their key ingredients, cobalt, is in short supply. That makes prices high, meaning people will go to great lengths to unearth it.

The news: Bloomberg reports that production in “artisanal” mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo has increased by 50 percent in the last year. Don’t be fooled by the name. As we’ve explained, these mines are dangerous, and some even exploit child labor.

Bouncing back: Congolese cobalt production actually declined in 2016, after an Amnesty International report describing exploitative working conditions in artisanal mines caused a clampdown. It hasn’t lasted.

Bottom line: Our thirst for batteries has a dark side. Until companies throughout the supply chain start demanding better conditions in mines, that will remain the case.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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