Cobalt, Congo and the responsible investor – by Martin Grosskope (Globe and Mail – October 10, 2019)

Martin Grosskopf is a vice-president and portfolio manager at AGF Investments Inc.

There is a dark side to a brighter, cleaner and smarter future. It starts with lithium-ion batteries that contain cobalt, the material needed to power our new technologies, giving way to the 21st century’s version of the great gold rush as global giants such as China move to wrest control of the world’s supply.

These batteries are used in everything from our smartphones and laptops to electric vehicles (EVs) and have earned the “blood batteries” moniker because they are sometimes mined by children and other locals in unsafe conditions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The misery in which these so-called artisanal miners work, and their rising death toll, has thrust cobalt mining in the Congo into the international spotlight. The issue is also raising vexing questions for those with an interest in responsible investing.

In fact, the issue illustrates the kind of difficult trade-offs investors concerned with environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues are often forced to consider.

On the one hand, many investors are concerned with improving working conditions as well as human rights violations. On the other, many of these same investors are also interested in protecting the environment and ushering in the next technological revolution driven by new technologies such as EVs and renewable energy.

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