Skip to Content
Climate change

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.

Deep Dive

Climate change

This abundant material could unlock cheaper batteries for EVs

Sodium-based batteries could start hitting the market this year, if companies follow through on their plans.

This startup says its first fusion plant is five years away. Experts doubt it.

Helion, backed by OpenAI's Sam Altman, has already lined up Microsoft as its first customer.

Inside the little-known group setting the corporate climate agenda

The Science Based Targets initiative has earned praise for pushing companies to take climate action, but can voluntary emissions targets really get the world where it needs to be?

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.