Cobalt mined under harsh conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a key component in items such as electric vehicles and iPhones sold around the world.
Congolese freelance workers venture into dangerous mines to collect the valuable mineral with nothing more than shovels and picks. Many use their bare hands, and miners regularly suffer crippling injuries or death, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The cobalt mined in Congo ends up all over the world in the form of lithium batteries and electronics. Pressure has mounted on the world’s largest companies to purge hand-mined cobalt from their supply chains since Amnesty International detailed working conditions in Congo in 2016.
Many companies have pledged to cut support for such mines, but cleaning up a supply chain is often difficult and seldom foolproof because of the number of parties involved and the stranglehold Congo has on the market. Darton Commodities Ltd., a U.K.-based cobalt-trading firm, found that Congo is the source for roughly two-thirds of the world’s supply of cobalt, WSJ reported.
“When we speak to companies along the battery value chain, this is one of the biggest issues they have,” Wood Mackenzie analyst Milan Thakore told WSJ. “How do we trace where the cobalt has actually come from?”
Apple and Volkswagen are still using cobalt mined by hand in Congo in their products. Volkswagen is using the mineral to build a fleet of electric vehicles to rival Tesla.
Rising demand for electronics and electric vehicles has caused cobalt’s price to soar in recent years. The price of the mineral has more than doubled since 2016 when working conditions in Congo’s cobalt mines became widely known.
The rocketing demand for cobalt and the mineral’s high price has led some to call it the next “blood diamond.”