You may not have given much thought to Cobalt since high school chemistry, but the brittle, silver-blue metal is key to powering much of our modern lives.
Child miners aged four at Congo cobalt mine
IQS Directory reports:. Although the material extricated is used in the manufacturing of some of our societies most powerful personal devices, the tools used to cultivate the cobalt are primitive, the conditions abysmal.
Shoeless, gloveless, and with no protection from the residual dust or elements of nature, the children work for upwards of 12 hours a day. Even adults employed in the mines receive few safeguards.
Those that dig the tunnels do so without protective gear. The tunnels themselves do not reflect ones dug by modern standards. Without the necessary bracing required to maintain their integrity, shafts often collapse. Many times with workers still in them. Pay, much like the environment the workers must operate in, is also atrocious.
A typical wage is eight pence a day or the equivalent of ten cents in US dollars. Amnesty International documented child labor in cobalt mines in both andciting a lack of due diligence between artisanal mining operations in the DRC and their sale on the global market. Still, there are promising alternatives to procuring cobalt mined through child labor: recycling cobalt, using blockchain tracking, and developing cobalt-free batteries. Vancouver-based American Manganese has developed a way to extract cobalt from recycled batteries, a process that the company sees as far more productive.
Secondly, blockchain technology, which creates an immutable, public ledger could potentially help trace a bag of cobalt from a mine all the way to a technology manufacturer. And finally, some companies, including Panasonic, are exploring alternatives to cobalt batteries. While this move is primarily driven by the rising cost of cobalt, the move may lead to more ethical ways of creating batteries.
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Submit Form.Children as young as seven are working in perilous conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to mine cobalt that ends up in smartphones, cars and computers sold to millions across the world, by household brands including Apple, Microsoft and Vodafone, according to a new investigation by Amnesty International. The human rights group claims to have traced cobalt used in lithium batteries sold to 16 multinational brands to mines where young children and adults are being paid a dollar a day, working in life-threatening conditions and subjected to violence, extortion and intimidation.
InUnicef estimated that there were 40, children working in all the mines across the south, many involved in mining cobalt. In a joint-investigation with African Resources Watch Afrewatchan African NGO focusing on human rights in the minerals and extractive industries, Amnesty International says it interviewed 90 adults and children working in five artisanal cobalt mine sites.
Workers spoke of labouring for 12 hours a day with no protective clothing, and with many experiencing significant health problems as a result.
Children mining cobalt in slave-like conditions as global demand for battery material surges
The report says that child miners as young as seven carried back-breaking loads and worked in intense heat for between one or two dollars a day without face masks or gloves. This supply chain has not been independently verified by the Guardian. Of the 16 companies listed in the report as sourcing from battery manufacturers using processed cobalt from Huayou Cobalt, two multinational companies denied sourcing any cobalt from the DRC and five said they had no links with Huayou Cobalt.
Amnesty International and Afrewatch claim that despite the denials by some of the named multinationals, none of those companies named could independently verify where the cobalt in their products come from.
Amnesty and Afrewatch are using the findings of the report to call on multinational companies to conduct investigations of their supply chains for lithium-ion batteries, to check for child labour or labour abuses and to be more transparent about their suppliers. Topics Employment Modern-day slavery in focus. Reuse this content. Most popular.Five of the world's largest tech companies have been accused in a landmark lawsuit of being complicit in the deaths of children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo DRC who were forced to mine cobalt, a metal used to make telephones and computers.
The complaint said families claim that the companies were part of a system of forced labour that led to the serious injuries or deaths of the children. This marked the first time that tech-industry companies have jointly faced legal action over the source of their cobalt.
Six of the 14 children in the case were killed in tunnel collapses, and the others suffered life-altering injuries, including paralysis, the complaint said. Cobalt is essential in making rechargeable lithium batteries used in millions of products sold by the tech industry.
Global demand for the metal is expected to increase at seven percent to 13 percent annually over the next decade, according to a study by the European Commission. The lawsuit said the children, some as young as six years old, were forced by their families' extreme poverty to leave school and work in cobalt mines owned by the British and Swiss mining company Glencore, which has previously been accused of using child labour.
In response to a request for comment, Dell said in an email that it has "never knowingly sourced operations" using child labour and has launched an investigation into the allegations.
A spokesperson for Glencore said: "Glencore notes the allegations contained in a U. The legal complaint argued that the companies all have the ability to overhaul their cobalt supply chains to ensure safer conditions. More than 40 million people have been estimated to be captive in modern slavery, which includes forced labour and forced marriage, according to Walk Free and the International Labour Organization.
Toggle navigation. Are UN troops failing the Congolese? More than half of the world's cobalt is produced in the DRC. Have your say. Give us feedback. Sign up for our Newsletter.Posted July 25, It is having a boom, and the modern world is increasingly reliant on it — using it to stabilise batteries in phones, computers and electric cars; in fact, it is probably in the device you are using right now.
Cobalt is mined in a string of countries around the world including Australia, but most of the world's supply comes from just one country in Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo DRC — a nation with a long record of poorly-enforced labour standards and child exploitation.
And because cobalt is in such high demand right now, its global price has soared, doubling over the course of last year. According to human rights organisation Amnesty International, that growth has put pressure on miners in the DRC to ramp up production, leading in turn to tens of thousands of children being lured or forced into gruelling and dangerous mine work.
Amnesty International researcher Lauren Armistead has spent time in the DRC and told the ABC's daily news podcast The Signal the work in the cobalt mines was extremely hazardous, especially without the right protective equipment. Ms Armistead said she believed a UNICEF estimate made in — that 40, children were toiling illegally in Congolese mines — was now a severe underestimate, given the recent increase in global demand.
She said the hours the children were working were particularly exploitative — and would be even for adults. Much of the cobalt mined in the DRC is extracted from small mines, sometimes literally run out of semi-rural backyards.
Former child labourer Yannick from Kolwezi, a city of more thanpeople in the south of the DRC, dropped out of school and went into full-time work at the age of seven. Yannick said the work in the mine involved intense physical labour using only a crowbar, and said conditions underground were generally hot and sticky. He also described former bosses who insisted their underage employees put in long working days without breaks. The conditions described by Yannick amount to modern day slavery, according to law experts in Australia who think companies here could do more to isolate their supply chains from exploitative practices.
Professor Jennifer Burn, a lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney Law School and a spokeswoman for the organisation Anti Slavery Australia, said exploitative workplace practices both here and overseas accounted for at least some of the relatively low cost of electronic goods. She supports the Modern Slavery Bill currently awaiting a vote in the Parliament, which would compel an estimated 3, Australian companies to conduct annual audits of their supply chain for signs of exploitative practices.
The Modern Slavery Bill was tabled in the House of Representatives late last month just before parliamentarians adjourned for their winter break. A parliamentary committee is currently consulting on the bill, with a final vote due some time before Christmas. Topics: mobile-phonesinformation-and-communicationhuman-rightsaustraliacongo-the-democratic-republic-of-the. If you have inside knowledge of a topic in the news, contact the ABC. ABC teams share the story behind the story and insights into the making of digital, TV and radio content.Picking through a mountain of huge rocks with his tiny bare hands, the exhausted little boy makes a pitiful sight.
His name is Dorsen and he is one of an army of children, some just four years old, working in the vast polluted mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where toxic red dust burns their eyes, and they run the risk of skin disease and a deadly lung condition. Here, for a wage of just 8p a day, the children are made to check the rocks for the tell-tale chocolate-brown streaks of cobalt — the prized ingredient essential for the batteries that power electric cars.
Eight-year-old Dorsen is pictured cowering beneath the raised hand of an overseer who warns him not to spill a rock. The terrible price they will pay for our clean air is ruined health and a likely early death. Almost every big motor manufacturer striving to produce millions of electric vehicles buys its cobalt from the impoverished central African state.
The cobalt is mined by unregulated labour and transported to Asia where battery manufacturers use it to make their products lighter, longer-lasting and rechargeable.
The planned switch to clean energy vehicles has led to an extraordinary surge in demand. While a smartphone battery uses no more than 10 grams of refined cobalt, an electric car needs 15kg 33lb. He then staggers beneath the weight of a heavy sack that he must carry to unload 60ft away in pouring rain. Adult miners dig up to ft below the surface using basic tools, without protective clothing or modern machinery.
Sometimes the children are sent down into the narrow makeshift chambers where there is constant danger of collapse. Cobalt is such a health hazard that it has a respiratory disease named after it — cobalt lung, a form of pneumonia which causes coughing and leads to permanent incapacity and even death. Even simply eating vegetables grown in local soil can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, thyroid damage and fatal lung diseases, while birds and fish cannot survive in the area.
No one knows quite how many children have died mining cobalt in the Katanga region in the south-east of the country. The UN estimates 80 a year, but many more deaths go unregistered, with the bodies buried in the rubble of collapsed tunnels.
Is your phone tainted by the misery of the 35,000 children in Congo's mines?
Others survive but with chronic diseases which destroy their young lives. Girls as young as ten in the mines are subjected to sexual attacks and many become pregnant. Dorsen and year-old Richard are pictured. With his mother dead, Dorsen lives with his father in the bush and the two have to work daily in the cobalt mine to earn money for food.
When Sky News investigated the Katanga mines it found Dorsen, working near a little girl called Monica, who was four, on a day of relentless rainfall. Dorsen was hauling heavy sacks of rocks from the mine surface to a growing stack 60ft away.U ntil recently, I knew cobalt only as a colour. Falling somewhere between the ocean and the sky, cobalt blue has been prized by artists from the Ming dynasty in China to the masters of French Impressionism.
But there is another kind of cobalt, an industrial form that is not cherished for its complexion on a palette, but for its ubiquity across modern life. This cobalt is found in every lithium-ion rechargeable battery on the planet — from smartphones to tablets to laptops to electric vehicles. It is also used to fashion superalloys to manufacture jet engines, gas turbines and magnetic steel.
You cannot send an email, check social media, drive an electric car or fly home for the holidays without using this cobalt. As I learned on a recent research trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congothis cobalt is not awash in cerulean hues. Instead, it is smeared in misery and blood. Elodie is Her two-month-old son is wrapped tightly in a frayed cloth around her back.
He inhales potentially lethal mineral dust every time he takes a breath. Toxicity assaults at every turn; earth and water are contaminated with industrial runoff, and the air is brown with noxious haze.
Elodie is on her own here, orphaned by cobalt mines that took both her parents. She spends the entire day bent over, digging with a small shovel to gather enough cobalt-containing heterogenite stone to rinse at nearby Lake Malo to fill one sack. Across the south-eastern provinces, I observed that Chinese companies run many of the industrial mines in the region. Every one of the 23 buying houses I documented in detail were operated by the Chinese, and I must have seen a hundred more with Chinese traders inside.
Chinese processors then mix cobalt from industrial and artisanal sources during a preliminary refining stage to produce crude cobalt hydroxide, which they drive to ports at Dar es Salaam and Durban for export to China. After additional refining in China, the cobalt is sold to major component manufacturers and consumer electronic companies across the world.
Such companies are collectively worth trillions of dollars. Yet according to Amnesty International in a report at the end ofnone of them are making sufficient efforts to ensure that their riches are not being built on the backs of the oppressed women, men and children of the Congo who toil in putrid conditions, endure pitiful wages, grave injury and risk death to mine their cobalt.
I documented the horrors at 31 artisanal mining sites in the south-eastern provinces, including several previously undocumented sites in remote mountains near the Zambian border. Based on the data I gathered, I estimate there are more thancreuseurs mining cobalt in DRC, at least 35, of whom are children, some as young as six.
The year-old boy joined a group of young men who spent two months digging a tunnel 26m straight down before they hit a heterogenite vein. Now they descend into darkness each day, spending up to 24 hours at a time in narrow tunnels unable to stand, hacking away for cobalt.
Every minute is suffused with dread, because many tunnels have collapsed in Kasulo, burying alive everyone inside.
The entire neighbourhood has in fact been walled off, in an effort to keep people from documenting the perilous conditions.
Numerous local creuseurs told me that children like Arthur are forced to pay bribes to the local government functionaries who are supposed to ensure there are no children working at sites like Kasulo. In mine after mine, I witnessed heartrending suffering at the bottom of global cobalt supply chains. The companies that source cobalt from DRC are surely aware of the appalling conditions under which the mineral is mined in some sites in the country.
Aside from the Amnesty reports, labour abuses linked to cobalt mining in the region have been widely documented by human rights groups and by media organisations across the world.Cobalt is a chemical element with the symbol Co and atomic number Like nickel, cobalt is found in the Earth's crust only in chemically combined form, save for small deposits found in alloys of natural meteoric iron.
The free elementproduced by reductive smeltingis a hard, lustrous, silver-gray metal. Cobalt-based blue pigments cobalt blue have been used since ancient times for jewelry and paints, and to impart a distinctive blue tint to glass, but the color was later thought to be due to the known metal bismuth. Miners had long used the name kobold ore German for goblin ore for some of the blue-pigment-producing minerals ; they were so named because they were poor in known metals, and gave poisonous arsenic -containing fumes when smelted.
Insuch ores were found to be reducible to a new metal the first discovered since ancient timesand this was ultimately named for the kobold. Today, some cobalt is produced specifically from one of a number of metallic-lustered ores, such as cobaltite CoAsS.
The element is, however, more usually produced as a by-product of copper and nickel mining. Cobalt is primarily used in lithium-ion batteriesand in the manufacture of magneticwear-resistant and high-strength alloys. The compounds cobalt silicate and cobalt II aluminate CoAl 2 O 4cobalt blue give a distinctive deep blue color to glassceramicsinkspaints and varnishes. Cobalt occurs naturally as only one stable isotopecobalt Cobalt is a commercially important radioisotope, used as a radioactive tracer and for the production of high-energy gamma rays.
Cobalt is the active center of a group of coenzymes called cobalamins. Vitamin B 12the best-known example of the type, is an essential vitamin for all animals.
Cobalt in inorganic form is also a micronutrient for bacteriaalgaeand fungi. Cobalt is a ferromagnetic metal with a specific gravity of 8. Cobalt is a weakly reducing metal that is protected from oxidation by a passivating oxide film. It is attacked by halogens and sulfur.
It does not react with hydrogen gas H 2 or nitrogen gas N 2 even when heated, but it does react with boroncarbonphosphorusarsenic and sulfur. Several oxides of cobalt are known. Green cobalt II oxide CoO has rocksalt structure. These halides exist in anhydrous and hydrated forms. Whereas the anhydrous dichloride is blue, the hydrate is red. Cobalt III fluoride, which is used in some fluorination reactions, reacts vigorously with water.