The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) has more cobalt than the rest of the world combined. This resource powers the $484.8 billion smartphone industry, the electric vehicle industry set to reach $858 billion by 2027, and the global laptop market currently worth more than $158.5 billion. This mineral is present in every lithium rechargeable battery manufactured in the world today.
Nearly three-quarters of the global cobalt supply is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Far more than the rest of the world, with only 3% mined in neighboring Zambia and smaller amounts in other countries.
In 2022, for the second year in a row, the Norwegian Refugee Council has declared the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo the world’s most neglected refugee crisis.
The country’s mining provinces have become hotbeds for armed militias, with the United Nations reporting at least 122 rebel groups in the region, displacing and killing millions of Congolese.
A decade of fighting in the country – past the turn of the century – ended with an estimated death toll of at least 6 million. Many are children. Make it – seemingly quietly – the deadliest conflict since World War II. The question is has it really stopped?
In an attempt to diminish the life-threatening situation in Congo and the importance of Cobalt to world business, political commentators and journalists are blindly proposing that it is not the sole jurisdiction of production without proper analysis of the prevailing overwhelming factual global sources thus far.
A number of sports, entertainment and media figures have brought awareness to the situation in Congo, most recently Kyrie Irving.
Dallas Mavericks superstar Irving said: “If I know the kids are still working in the cobalt mines in Congo, making Teslas, how can I be free?”
Actor, producer and director Ben Affleck has been running his East Congo Initiative for more than a decade, providing advocacy and grants initiatives in the region. Affleck has testified repeatedly before the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate and has defended the Democratic Republic of Congo at the United Nations, pushing for increased international diplomacy, support and understanding of the situation there.
On his world-leading podcast, Joe Rogan interviews author and journalist Siddharth Kara about what’s happening in the region and the enormous toll it’s taking on human life.
From the ground in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kara is firm There is no such thing as “clean cobalt”, all the major industrial cobalt mines he has visited (he says he has visited almost all of them) Rely on child labor or slavery.
After watching the podcast, British rapper Zuby recommended to his social network followers to watch the interview.
“This latest Joe Rogan Experience podcast is heavy on content,” he wrote. “If you have a smartphone or an electric car (that’s 100% yours) then I highly recommend you give it a listen.”
I sat down with Siddharth Kara, visiting professor at Harvard University and author of “Cobalt Red: How Congo Blood Powers Our Lives,” to discuss this situation and why the entertainment industry must continue to speak out to attract global attention.
Wilson: What happened in Congo, why were people killed, and what was the number of civilian deaths due to cobalt mining?
Kara: Cobalt mining in the DRC is a human rights and environmental disaster. Hundreds of thousands of poor Congolese people, including tens of thousands of children, mine cobalt from the ground under extremely dangerous conditions, earning as little as one or two dollars a day. They suffered broken bones, toxic contamination, and were buried alive in tunnel collapses. In addition, the environment has been heavily polluted by mining companies. Millions of trees have been felled, and toxic waste water has been released into the air, land and water.
Congo accounts for roughly three-quarters of global cobalt production, so it’s not an exaggeration to say that our entire rechargeable economy is built on the devastation of the mining provinces of the DRC. No one will know how many women, men and children die in Congo’s cobalt mining operations, but the tally is likely to be in the thousands every year.
Wilson: In your opinion, are companies that benefit from Congolese cobalt mining doing anything to stop it? If not, why do you think this is?
Kara: Big tech and electric vehicle companies at the top of the cobalt supply chain are not doing enough to meet their claims that the human rights of everyone involved in the supply chain are protected, that there is no child labor in the cobalt supply chain, and that mining operations in the Congo is sustainable. The truth is that no cobalt from the Congo has been contaminated by a series of human rights abuses and environmental damage. The only reason I can think of is that African people and environments are valued less than those in the global north.
Wilson: From a government perspective, can more be done to stop the Congo problem?
Kalla: Governments must do more to hold tech and electric car companies accountable for the Congolese who are prowling for cobalt. For example, the United States has a law – the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act (2016) – that prohibits the import of goods made using forced or child labor. If this law only applies to the myriad gadgets and electric cars that have cobalt in their batteries, I believe tech and electric car companies will soon start taking the human rights of the people of the DRC more seriously.
Wilson: Do you think the devastating impact of Congolese cobalt production is known from a technological and governmental perspective all over the world? Why should you – and a handful of others like Joe Rogan and Kyrie Irving – be asked to highlight the problems with cobalt production in this country?
Kara: I believe that almost every tech and electric vehicle company, and most governments in the global North, are aware of the damage to human rights and the environment caused by cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The sad truth is – the heart of Africa has been plundered by foreign powers for centuries. As truth seekers such as Roger Casement, Joseph Conrad, and George Washington Williams revealed King Leopold’s love for rubber and ivory As with the horrors of the genocidal looting of the Congo, today’s truth seekers must also bring the cobalt looting to the world’s attention. The likes of Joe Rogan and Kyrie Irving have used their platforms to amplify the voices of the Congolese people to a world that cannot function without their suffering. As this fact spreads globally, communities of conscience will form and hold tech and electric vehicle companies accountable for their cobalt supply chains.
The outcry from the public, global influencers and celebrities has picked up in recent weeks The virality of Kara and Rogan’s podcast episode has influenced the zeitgeist surrounding cobalt.However, this is not the first time It’s been brought up for at least the past decade, making noise around Cobalt and Congo. Yet never before has the public received such a visceral account of the catastrophic and deadly humanitarian impact on civilian life and the environment in Congo. At least none of the accounts that became topical because of new media.
Time will tell if increased awareness and outrage on the topic helps bring about constructive change.