Have you ever wondered where the batteries that power electric vehicles come from?
The truth is that 40,000 child laborers work in devastating conditions in the DRC (Dominican Republic of the Congo) to produce Cobalt, a vital ingredient in creating the lithium-ion batteries that power your Tesla.
Teslas, and most other electric or hybrid vehicles, are powered by a lithium-ion battery. Cobalt, a hard, lustrous, silver-gray metal found in the earth’s crust, is a critical component in stability and safety for EV (Electric Vehicle) batteries. More specifically, cobalt ensures that the cathodes in these batteries do not combust while also playing a role in extending the vehicle’s battery life.
As many countries offer incentives for the use of electric vehicles, demand for cobalt is skyrocketing. 3.4 million metric tons of cobalt lie underneath the ground of Southern Congo. Over 70% of the world’s cobalt supply comes from the DRC, making the country essential to the cobalt market. Unfortunately, this is where the problem lies: cobalt mines in the DRC deplorably violate international human rights.
There are 250,000 workers in the cobalt mines; alarmingly, 40,000 are children, often as young as six. These laborers earn less than $2 per day, endlessly toiling away for over 12 hours on their hands and knees in deep underground shafts around 10 meters long, which they have often dug themselves.
Not only is there child labor in these cobalt mines, but they also have incredibly hazardous working conditions. The lack of regulation in these mines allows the miners to work in perilous conditions. Workers lack proper safety gear and are exposed to dangerous chemicals, dust, and particles that can result in deadly diseases like tuberculosis. Aside from health risks, they also risk dying from tunnel collapses.
In 2019, a legal complaint on behalf of 14 families from the DRC by the IRA (International Rights Advocates), a US-based human rights non-profit. The children of these families were forced to work in the cobalt mines due to their extreme poverty. As a result, six of the 14 children were killed in tunnel collapses, and the others suffered permanent, life-altering injuries, including paralysis.
In addition to spontaneous combustion and faulty artificial intelligence, inhumane working conditions in cobalt mines is another deep-rooted issue in switching to electric vehicles. Climate change is indubitably a primary concern and threat to the entire world; however, before switching to electric vehicles, new technological developments in safer, cobalt-free batteries are an absolute necessity.