To the Editor,
I feel compelled to write about one of the darker sides of our modern technology. But before I start, I need to admit that I own several lithium battery operated appliances as well as an electric car and bike.
The latest problem with this technology, that I have become aware of, involves the mining of cobalt, which is a major component of lithium ion batteries. I learned about a civil suit which is being brought against five of the world’s largest tech companies including Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Tesla and Dell.
These companies are accused of “aiding and abetting” the mines exploiting child labour to source cobalt. “In my 35 years as a human rights lawyer, I’ve never seen such extreme abuse of innocent children on a large scale,” said the plaintiffs’ lead counsel, Terry Collingsworth, when presenting the claim in a statement. Up to 75 percent of the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo where more than 35,000 children are involved in the mining.
Apple and Dell Technologies have stated they were deeply committed to responsible sourcing. Apple noted it has been mapping its cobalt supply chain to the mine level since 2016. However, we will need to see how such claims stand up in court.
In the meantime, because cobalt mining supplies material for the production of lithium ion batteries, which appear to be one of the major tools in response to the climate crisis, it is incumbent on us as consumers and on the tech companies, to insist on the highest labour standards and practices monitored by independent auditors.
I plan to write to Apple, Samsung and GM and Microsoft, the makers of four of my electrical appliances, to express concern about their sourcing of cobalt.