Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cars and Congo's Cobalt

Many believe that electric that only a matter of time before electric cars as clean green vehicles become the norm and the guilt of transport emissions becomes a thing of the past. But ethical question marks loom large above the mining conditions of cobalt - a mineral used in the lithium-ion batteries that power cars, ( as well as smartphones and laptops.)

More than half of global supplies hail from one of the world's poorest nations, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where corruption abounds and children toil. The World Bank estimates two thirds of Congolese people live on less than 0.86 euros ($1.90) a day and Amnesty says hunger and unemployment often drive people to hunt for valuable minerals.

"Working conditions are appalling, there is no safety equipment and people risk getting buried alive in hand-made mines,” Matt Dummlett, a researcher at Amnesty International, told DW. "I've seen children as young as seven working on the surface, collecting stones and facing brutality and intimidation during long days in the heat."

 Carmakers, including VW and Daimler, where electric vehicles are expected to make up a quarter of sales by 2025, accelerate towards a cleaner future, and as engineers fine-tune new designs to compete with the likes of Tesla, they boost competition for raw materials. Volkswagen recently launched a tender to secure cobalt supplies for at least the next five years - following similar efforts by BMW and Tesla Motors - and overall demand for the mineral is forecast to jump eleven-fold by 2025.

Research by non-profit Global Witness reveals that between 2013 and 2015 more than 647 million euros in mining revenues paid by companies to Congolese state bodies was lost to the treasury. Many Congolese mining licences are sold by Gecamines, the state mining company, which Global Witness researcher Peter Jones calls a "black hole”. "Gecamines is headed by one of [President Joseph] Kabila's inner circle. It has repeatedly sold off stakes in its mining projects, it doesn't publish its accounts and there is no way of knowing where exactly money paid into it could end up,” Jones said.

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