DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Demand for electric vehicles is fueling a rise in child labor in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, experts said this week, urging companies to take action as the industry expands.
Cobalt is a key component in batteries for electric cars, phones and laptops, and Congo provides more than half of global supply. Tens of thousands of children as young as six dig for the toxic substance in artisanal mines in the country’s southeast, without protective clothing, rights groups say.
As companies move to secure their supply of cobalt, they should also make a push to improve transparency and labor rights, said U.S.-based advocacy group Enough Project.
“I think it’s a really interesting moment for companies because there is such a spotlight on cobalt right now,” said Annie Callaway, author of the report.
“We’re not right at the beginning of the rise in demand but we’re still pretty early on, where we can make sure that there are systems in place to address these things,” she said.