Where do our iPhones, laptops and Tesla cars really come from? The truth about the Congolese mines where children are paid $2 a day to dig for cobalt. Young children mine and dig for cobalt, the chemical element used in almost every technological product on the market today
For years, big tech companies like Apple and Tesla have assured customers of their glossy stores and showrooms that all their goods are sold ethically.
But a new series of photos taken from mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where 90 percent of the world’s cobalt is mined and used to make the batteries that power our technological lives, raises uncomfortable questions.
A video from the Democratic Republic of the Congo documents the biggest surprise for some villagers in the country, as an entire mountain filled with gold was discovered. The gold mountain from Luhihi invoked thousands of people to swarm the village in the South Kivu province. pic.twitter.com/R9YQa09gMP
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Cobalt is the chemical element found in almost every technological gadget, a smartphone, tablet or laptop requires a few grams of it, while an electric vehicle requires a few kilograms. Apple, Microsoft, Google, Tesla and others all insist that they hold cobalt suppliers to the highest standards, and that they only trade with smelters and refiners that adhere to a code of conduct.
But the photos and videos published by the Daily Mail show some of the biggest mines in Africa – where many of these suppliers get their cobalt, with the workers being children who get paid $2 a day. The representatives of the companies refused to comment when contacted by the newspaper for a comment.
Barefoot children covered in chemicals, endlessly smashing rocks for $2 a day, exhausted new mothers with their babies strapped to them, sifting through rock nets in the hope of finding the precious cobalt. Prolonged exposure to cobalt can lead to lung disease, deafness and according to Siddharth Kara who spent years in the Congo researching the subject, it causes various forms of cancer.
“They do it for $2 a day and for them, it’s the difference between whether they eat that day or not, so they don’t have the option to say no.” Major technology companies such as Microsoft, Tesla, Apple and Samsung have made various promises and commitments to move away from using cobalt in this way. They also rely on the fact that many of the mines are Chinese owned, arguing that it is beyond their control what happens in these factories.