Sunday, December 4, 2016

Cobalt mining for lithium ion batteries has a high human cost - Washington Post

Tracing the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to consumers’ phones and laptops.
Cobalt mining for lithium ion batteries has a high human cost - Washington Post The world has grown reliant on lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, laptops and electric cars. But the desperate search for the ingredients carries a steep cost. This remote landscape in southern Africa lies at the heart of the world’s mad scramble for cheap cobalt, a mineral essential to the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, laptops and electric vehicles made by companies such as Apple, Samsung and major automakers. 

The Post traced this cobalt pipeline and, for the first time, showed how cobalt mined in these harsh conditions ends up in popular consumer products. It moves from small-scale Congolese mines to a single Chinese company — Congo DongFang International Mining, part of one of the world’s biggest cobalt producers, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt — that for years has supplied some of the world’s largest battery makers. They, in turn, have produced the batteries found inside products such as Apple’s iPhones a finding that calls into question corporate assertions that they are capable of monitoring their supply chains for human rights abuses or child labor.

60 percent of the world’s cobalt originates in Congo — a chaotic country rife with corruption and a long history of foreign exploitation of its natural resources. A century ago, companies plundered Congo’s rubber sap and elephant tusks while the country was a Belgian colony. Today, more than five decades after Congo gained its independence, it is minerals that attract foreign companies.

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