Tech industry relies on cobalt mining in Congo using child labor under brutal conditions

"The cobalt that's being mined in the Congo is in every single lithium-ion rechargeable battery manufactured in the world today, every smartphone, every tablet, every laptop, and crucially, every electric vehicle."

Joshua Young North Carolina

On the December 22 episode of the Joe Rogan Experience, the host spoke to author Siddhartha Kara, an expert in human trafficking, child labor, and modern-day slavery, who said that the bondage happening in the Congo used for the mining of precious metals is unprecedented in human history. 

Kara said, "Going back centuries, never in human history has there been more suffering that generated more profit and was linked to the lives of more people around the world ever, ever, in history than what's happening in the Congo right now."

"The cobalt that's being mined in the Congo is in every single lithium-ion rechargeable battery manufactured in the world today, every smartphone, every tablet, every laptop, and crucially, every electric vehicle,"  Kara said. So, you and I, we can't function on a day-to-day basis without cobalt and three-fourths of the supply is coming out of the Congo."

Kara said that the metal is being mined in "appalling, heart-wrenching, dangerous conditions" and "by and large, the world doesn't know what's happening in the Congo" or about the slave labor being used to mine the metal. These workers make the equivalent of $1 per day for excessive working hours and can be packed 15,000 people at a time in a pit while mining.

The two men watched a video showing such conditions in the mines and Kara said, "This is the bottom of the supply chain of your iPhone, of your Tesla of your Samsung."

Kara added, "there's no clean cobalt, not real. No, no, it's all marketing" from the tech companies, calling the idea of "clean cobalt" nothing but "PR, it's a fiction."

"There's not a single company on planet earth that makes a device that has a rechargeable battery in it that can reliably and justifiably claim that their cobalt isn't coming from sources like that," he said.

The Biden administration has led the call for America's transition into so-called renewable energy resources, saying the reliance on fossil fuels is harmful to the environment. States like California have taken up that call despite not having the infrastructure or technology in place to take up energy demands. 

The transition from fossil fuels to renewables requires large supplies of critical metals such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt among others.

Rogan then mentioned "conflict minerals," which Kara clarified are tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold, all of which are mined in Eastern Congo and are used in microprocessors. Kara noted how those materials were heavily mined after the Rwandan genocide.

"Militias and warlords were forcing the local population at gunpoint, machete point, to dig this stuff out. And it was flowing up into the formal supply chain into mostly those first-generation cell phones," Kara said.

"Cobalt started later. Cobalt really took off about 10-12 years ago, and it's in another part of the country in the mining provinces in the southeast of the Congo. And cobalt took off because it was started to be used in lithium-ion batteries to maximize their charge and stability," Kara said and noted that "Chinese mining companies took control of almost all the big mines and the local population has been displaced and is under duress and they dig in absolutely subhuman gut-wrenching conditions."


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