Whether in cars, laptops or smartphones, cobalt is in nearly all batteries. The biggest supplier is the Democratic Republic of Congo, where human rights are often violated in the mines.
Young men, armed with only torchlight and tools climb down in a deep, dark hole, without helmet or security gear. The path becomes even smaller as they go further down in the unsecured tunnel. To remove the cobalt, the young miners use chisels and hand hooks and then place the gem rocks into bags, which are then pulled up by another miner above ground.
The rights group Amnesty International witnessed this scene during a research trip in Kasulu, the former Katanga province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These mine workers are known in the DRC as Creuseurs, loosely translated as the diggers.
The mining work is divided among everyone. Men dig for the rocks in the tunnel, women wash the rocks in the river, and children are tasked with separating the cobalt from the rock with their bare hands. “Neither the children nor the adults who we met had any form of security equipment”, said Amnesty International’s researcher Lauren Armistead.
In May 2015, Armistead, her colleague Mark Dummett and a staff of the African mining resources monitoring group, AFREWATCH, researched the conditions of cobalt mining in the DR Congo for an article they titled: “This is what we die for.” When the report was published in January 2016, it caused a lot of stir due to its damning documentation of child labor in the artisanal mining sector.
“The youngest child we met was just seven years old when he first went down into the mines,” said Armistead in a DW interview. “Most children involved in sorting little rocks or crushing the stones on the surface in old industrial mines are teenagers.”
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