back to article Alphabet, Apple, Dell, Tesla, Microsoft exploit child labor to mine cobalt for batteries, human-rights warriors claim

Google-parent Alphabet, Apple, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla have been accused of "knowingly benefiting from and aiding and abetting the cruel and brutal use of young children in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to mine cobalt," a key component of the lithium-ion batteries that these companies obtain from suppliers like Glencore …

  1. Spudley

    Woke tech giants sued...

    Seems to me that if anyone is going to be called "woke", it should be the ones doing the suing.

    They seem to be deliberately ignoring the fact that the oil industry is a far bigger user of cobalt than the battery industry, and oddly enough, they also get their cobalt from the same sources.

    Not only that, but of the companies actually listed, most of them buy their batteries from established battery manufacturers; the only one that actually manufacturers their own batteries is Tesla... and they're on record as saying that they're making efforts to cut their cobalt content to zero.

    So basically a stupid lawsuit that is aimed at making publicity from attacking high-profile tech companies rather than targeting the companies that are actually getting their hands dirty.

    1. Richocet

      Thanks for letting us know that oil companies are major cobalt customers. I didn't know that.

      How is oil industry deliberately being ignored? My guess is that oil industries are very good at getting away with widespread environmental damage (and global warming), so they would not be easy targets for such a campaign.

      And the executives probably don't care that children are being abused and mutilated.

      As long as they have enough money for their big swimming pool, private jet etc, why should the miners be paid anything? After all the execs work thousands of times harder than the children in the mines so everyone gets what they deserve. How is it even possible to work thousands of times harder than these kids?

      1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

        It's not about hard work . . .

        . . . it's about "creating value." Corporate executives have learned to harness the labor of others and siphon value from that labor to enrich themselves. I wouldn't go so far to as to say the cruelty is the point, but I'm 100% sure that the CEOs of the corporations in this scenario don't lose any sleep at night over it.

        On the other hand, if you've eaten any mass-market chocolate (Hershey, Nestle, etc.), it was probably sourced from plantations that use slave labor. Most of us are complicit in enabling oppressive working conditions somewhere (and by oppressive, I don't mean the coffee machine is broken half the time).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's not about hard work . . .

          It's almost as if they thought Das Kapital was a business textbook.

      2. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

        >> the oil industry is a far bigger user of cobalt than the battery industry


        Oil industry uses cobalt as a CATALYST, to strip out sulphur. The only "use" is in process losses ("spent hydrodesulphurization catalyst"), which are about 7,500-8,500 tonnes of cobalt per year, for the entire world's oil. And the oil companies are doing a lot of excellent research to recover and reuse even that usage (and all the other metals: molybdenum, nickel, aluminium, etc.).

        Batteries, OTOH, were using over 20,000 tonnes per year in 2017, when total global demand was just 71,000 tonnes.

        In 2019 global demand is over 90,000 tonnes and the increase has been attributed essentially entirely to additional battery production.

        Automobile manufacturers' EV projections are for 2.5x demand within a few years. The Tesla S3 alone has a production target of 500,000 cars, which is 5,000,000 - 7,500,000 tonnes of cobalt just for that one model. Or 50-75 years of 100% of current global production. (Musk is not seeking low-cobalt batteries because he's a gween-hewo, that's just virtue-badging -- if he can't get them, his busted business model is even busteder.)

        > My guess is that oil industries are very good at getting away with widespread environmental damage (and global warming)

        Actually, no.

        I suggest you/everyone actually learn a bit about the upstream raw materials industries you all critically rely on before joining in with the idiots/liars who like shouting dramatic slogans for attention. Who, indeed, often just make up bullshit.

        Please don't be misled by attention-seekers banging the virtue-drama drum -- do due diligence.

        1. steven_t

          How much cobalt per car?

          That's a really interesting post, but could I just query one aspect of it?

          You seem to be implying that each Tesla S3 uses 10 - 15 tonnes of cobalt. That can't be right, can it?

          1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

            Re: How much cobalt per car?

            Gah. No, it's not. 10-15 kg/battery, not mt/battery Apologies: got interrupted, was in a rush when I got back to the computer, forgot the switch of units for that example.

          2. Spudley

            Re: How much cobalt per car?

            It doesn't really matter how much cobalt Tesla uses anyway in context, because Tesla doesn't buy their cobalt from Congo. Cobalt for Model S/X is sourced from the Philippines, and for other models it comes from Canada.

            1. John 104

              Re: How much cobalt per car?

              Maybe mined in Canada, but all of it is shipped to China for processing, where they don't give a shit about the environment.

              The idea of a 'green' car that is battery powered is a total joke. The whole thing has to be one of the biggest bamboozles of all time.

        2. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

          I don't think it really matters a flying f**k as to which industry has been targetted, or who uses more or less than the other. It's an utterly pointless place to start. 8500 tonnes of Cobalt mined by exploited and seemingly disposable labour is still too much. The overall point being that no kid, adult, minor or miner should be being used as slave labour to enrich other already wealthy people. Even more so when the only real options a lot of these human beings have is a rock and a hard place (absolutely no pun intended).

          1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

            Excellent post

            We're quibbling over who pays who in the chain , and pointing fingers.

            Yes, those companies are no more guilty than most others.

            Lithium ion batteries are used everywhere . in all power tools for instance.

            At the end of the day it is us , the consumers who are to blame.

            Sorry , but its true . thats you. and me.

            We insist on paying the bare minimum.

            I'm typing this on a lithium ion battrried laptop right now.

            What can you do?

            well i guess insist on "properly mined cobalt" batteries

            just like non blood covered diamonds

            and dolphin friendly tuna

          2. martinusher Silver badge

            >The overall point being that no kid, adult, minor or miner...

            This is a political problem and its universal, its not just cobalt.

            >The overall point being that no kid, adult, minor or miner should be being used as slave labour to enrich other already wealthy people.

            Welcome to the real world. I'm not defending it, far from it, but this has been a problem for as long as history has been written. Attempts to deal with it politically have met with mixed success chiefly because the exploiters have a lot of resources at their disposal to counter opposition, capture governments and so on.

            Current governments in the US and UK are not particularly friendly to ordinary people, especially poor ones. If you're from the UK maybe you can explain the result of the recent election, especially in the light of the history and principles of the Conservative party because, seriously, it wasn't all that long ago that exactly the same working and living conditions were common in the UK. People organized and fought a lot of battles to improve working and living conditions only to have their descendants throw it all away because they never realized what they had. The US has had similar labor struggles, struggles that were racially charged and are ongoing (and in the US we tend to resort to violence to end labor disputes). Anyway, I don't want to lecture you too much but, honestly, tut-tutting about this will change nothing, as will filing spurious lawsuits.

        3. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

          It should be pretty self-evident that the best way to not generate pollution through the production of cars is . . . not owning a car and using more efficient means of transport (walking, biking, public transit) or by telecommuting. Even car share services are an improvement over individual vehicle ownership.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. Denarius Silver badge

            @Mangrove whatsit

            Not own a car ? Where do you live ? For many of us public transport is a joke for inner city temporary dwellers and virtue signalling politicians. Why is the plebs time costs counted as zero ?

            Those who live outside high density urban areas have no choice and that will remain. The best way to lower cobalt use is to recycle batteries and use clean diesel and petrol vehicles. Also use conventional power tools.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @Mangrove whatsit

              Try not owning a car in Australia and see how far you can walk/cycle. Our public transport is dismal, especially if you live in a 'regional' area. I love to ride to work but to get anywhere else I need a car.

    2. Blackjack Silver badge

      Woke is just a fancy word for saying you care about social issues when you really don't.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Just another shakedown

      Just sueing the deep pockets, rather than the organizations that certify that minerals were sourced properly. Reminds me of one of the best quotes on the topic ever:

      "So, if you mention extortion again, I'll have your legs broken." - Mayor Carmine DePasto (Animal House, 1978)

    4. martinusher Silver badge

      You sue the 'tech companies' for the same reason that was given years ago for robbing banks -- its where the money is.

  2. C.Carr

    Cobalt sources in the USA, Canada, and Australia need to be developed.

    A bit tangential -- we going to need a heck of a lot more copper as well, if there is any hope of rapid decarbonization. Big Oil vs Big Mineral -- can't get rid of both.

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

      Speak for yourself! I have a deal with a local pit mine collective. Every Friday, I go out to visit the mine and ensure that the minerals are extracted as non-invasively as possible by well-treated union labor and refined using only the most ecologically friendly methods, upon which I personally transport my minerals by bicycle (which is naturally made of laminated recycled newsprint) to the artisanal manufacturer of my personal electronics. Don't ask who it is; you've never heard of them.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I heard the carbon atoms used in refining your minerals are claiming they are being exploited.

        (Actually you really can nowadays make things from laminated recycled newsprint and plant-based epoxy. I have been half-seriously thinking of building a canoe that way, it's just that all the laminating is extremely tedious and it weighs an awful lot more for the same strength than Kevlar.)

    2. EnviableOne Silver badge

      there arent any, thats the problem

      well decent ones anyway ... there is a significant cobalt in congo and australia

    3. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      The problem with developing a mine is the quality of the ore or often the existence of the ore in X. Do not know if there are potential sources of Co in the US, Canada, or Australia.

      1. Spudley

        Most of Tesla's Cobalt already comes from Canada.

        1. EnviableOne Silver badge

          yet canada's reserves are tiny, and when all 4 gigafactories are online, the demand will out-strip the canadian supply, and while it may come from canada at the moment, it hasn't historically.

          The best move for sustainanbility is going Cobalt free, which is not too easy with the current cell makeup, but with newley developed solid electolytes, lithium and nickle free cells with comparable or higher energy densities become posible and will negate the need to tap DRCs significant cobalt reserves and exhaust the smaller reserves of countries like US and Canada

  3. aberglas

    Those kids would starve without work

    If they had a choice between working in the mines or going to a nice school with good meals, they would obviously choose the latter. But the choice is actually between working in the mines or sitting around without enough to eat.

    People in the comfortable west have no idea what it means to go hungry. Really hungry.

    This is the problem with attacking child labor. It is the wrong end of the stick. You need to attack extreme poverty instead.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Those kids would starve without work

      You'd probably have an easier time solving the African Elephant crisis. Both involve so much money the bad guys can outspend the good guys. But here, there will generally be sovereign backing combined with a distinct lack of viable resources like arable land.

    2. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Those kids would starve without work

      "the problem with attacking child labor. It is the wrong end of the stick. You need to attack extreme poverty instead"

      Yeah, but they ARE both ends of the same stick, and that is that in many of the countries in extreme poverty, it's because the guys in charge keep it that way. It's because corruption is so rife that big foreign companies have to corrupt local bosses just to have the slightest chance of operating there. It's because of the wars that don't get shown on the news, because it doesn't involve countries most people know about, or mostly even any countries at all, just local warlords looking to squeeze blood from a stone that has been squeezed dry many times over.

      And 'western' nations are happy to do business with them because hey, if not them it would be China, right?

      1. Black Betty

        Re: Those kids would starve without work

        And it's us in the consumerist nations who (directly and indirectly) pay those in charge to keep it that way. Brazilian beef; Indonesian palm oil; Nigerian petrochemicals; West African cocoa; Singaporean fisheries; Bangladeshi textiles; and so on. It's cheaper in the long run to pay a handful of warlords a small premium to keep the poorest of the poor in a condition of abject poverty.

        1. the Jim bloke

          Re: Those kids would starve without work

          and this is the glory of the global village.

          everyone gets to concentrate on what they are good at, although some people - or nations - might object to having their destiny defined as 'cheap labour'

      2. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Those kids would starve without work

        "And 'western' nations are happy to do business with them because hey, if not them it would be China, right?"

        Western nations are happy to do business with them as things are because if things became fully fledged industries with adult workers with living wages and rights, those goods would either eat into profit margins or make the end goods too expensive and so reduce the market.

        Fighting poverty in Africa means us western consumers paying the just price of ethically produced materials, think how expensive your 5G Ithings and EVs would be if your consumerism was supporting a standard of living in China, Indonesia and Africa etc that was equal to that of us Westerners.

    3. Danny Boyd Bronze badge

      Re: Those kids would starve without work

      Extreme poverty is too abstract to attack. And besides, attacking extreme poverty you have to be constructive, e.g., propose a solution. It's too difficult and requires significant brain power (which is, alas, ...). Much easier to attack the companies (rich bastards, them!) consuming the end product.

      Why not attack the consumers who buy the cobalt-containing stuff? Simple. They're not individually rich and they're NUMEROUS, so if they all tell you to GFYS, it'll resonate.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Those kids would starve without work

        It's not so much abstract as HARD. As in "growing food in the Sahara" hard. If there simply isn't enough arable land to go around and not enough technology and know-how to make the best use of what's there...

  4. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

    One-eyed selectivity

    Note the woketivists didn't pick on the far more relevant mineral to all these manufacturers: Coltan. Of which virtually the whole world's supply comes from the congo. No differences in practices, between minerals.

    Possible reason?

    Solar power is effectively impossible without coltan. And it needs relatively large amounts of it.


    (As an indication:

    If we used solar for 100% earth's power needs, we'd completely exhaust the world's reserves of coltan in a shade over 4 weeks (8% of annual reqts). A further 2 key minerals are eliminated by 12%. Solar is actually the least renewable of any energy supply, making coal's second-worst case of centuries look luxurious.

    Problem: essentially all our hightech stuff nowadays utterly relies on coltan. Your smartphone, your laptop. The lift's circuitry, your car's engine mgt, the traffic lights. Your washing machine, etc etc etc)

    1. Tim99 Silver badge

      Re: One-eyed selectivity

      I'm not sure that it is quite as bad as that. I'm assuming that Coltan is mined mostly for tantalum (which also comes from tantalite) rather than niobium (used for things like magnets) - There is a lot more niobium in the earth than tantalum. Some of the reserve figures suggest that the largest annual tonnage of tantalum mined was <1500 tonnes in the mid 2000s. Since the GFC tantalum use dropped, and as a result the largest miner, Australia, ceased production (One of the biggest businesses went broke). Shipping has recovered somewhat since then. So far the known reserves of tantalum are ~150,000 tonnes implying that at past usage there is perhaps 100 years of supply. Most of the reserves are in Brazil and Australia - Africa as a whole has ~10% of known reserves.

      Something that we might forget is that once technologically-critical elements have been used they can be recycled. Obsolete recycled equipment could be considered to be an ore containing many of these elements - So if the element becomes expensive enough, it is recovered. As a similar example, gold is mined down to very low levels. Boddington, Australia's largest gold mine, is viable at parts-per-million levels (a gram of gold from each tonne of ore) - It produces ~350 tonnes of gold and ~570,000 tonnes of copper a year (Which I think is ~£12 billion in gold and ~£2.5 billion for copper).

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: One-eyed selectivity

        AIUI a lot of cobalt comes from nickel mining, as the two are frequently together. Perhaps someone can provide a counterpoint...

        1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

          Re: One-eyed selectivity

          Yeah, and there's a lot of it in waste concentrates on mine sites, bundled up with other metals etc from the on-site preliminary processing for hte metal(s) they can actually get to economically. You'll periodically see prices quoted on the markets for various types of "waste" concentrates which are only viable for people with the right kit.

      2. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

        Re: One-eyed selectivity

        > not sure that it is quite as bad as that

        You're forgetting the real-world cost, and that it varies according to physical/chemical realities of converting various forms of X into an X we can use.

        Sure, we could do without coltan. And, identically:

        Sure, we could all switch from driving our current shitboxes to driving Bugatti Veyrons.

        It's just a matter of money, right? Easy peasy. So it costs a couple of orders of magnitude more! Who cares! No change will observed in how people conduct their everyday lives, nor will the hell of commuter traffic be affected in any way.

        > they can be recycled

        Not economically, they can't, not even remotely. Virtually all high-tech raw materials are not used as elements but compounds. Creating those compounds is not quite a one-way street, but to get back to something once-more usable is typically somewhere between catastrophically expensive and ha ha ha haaaaa.

        Consider by analogy how effortless it is to extract an unwanted spoon of sugar from one's tea. And that's just a solution, not a compound.

        So all those batteries and solar panels are going straight to landfill. Japan is staring at an "wall" of EV batteries rolling off their 10yr lifespan imminently, due to hopping in hard & early on that virtue-meme-bus.

        Problem: those compounds are highly toxic. Getting on for category-1 nuclear-waste levels of toxic. But where an EV-battery-sized amount of nuclear waste might have powered a city for a few years, the faux-green plan is create 1 per car and a few more per house.

        1. Tim99 Silver badge

          Re: One-eyed selectivity

          OK. I’m a Chartered Chemist, and have worked in this area - Although I am now retired from paid employment. Many conflict minerals and “rare earth” elements are not rare, but their refining process can be complex and potentially highly polluting. Processing is often carried out with little regards for the environment in developing or rapidly developed countries.

          Tantalum is difficult to refine, but not necessarily to recycle. Two large producers, Greenbushes and Wodinga are both, like the Boddington gold mine, in Western Australia. They export the element as the refined pentoxide. The major mines have not produced much tantalum since the GFC because of the (as I wrote) lack of demand, although one of them is mining large amounts of spodumene (lithium). It could be said that production of “conflict minerals” is always cheap because of exploitation and this means that other resources are not used.

          Something over 20% of tantalum used already comes from recycling. Landfill could be (and occasionally is) used as a “mine” for some materials. Your couple of orders of magnitude more is way too high, more likely 2-5 times more. As the technology is developed proportionally less of these materials are likely to be used.

          The Japanese batteries are a different problem: Lithium Is only about 3% of the cost of the battery. Lithium recycling rates can be as high as 95%, but it is currently cheaper to use “new” lithium carbonate in the manufacturing process.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

            1. Tim99 Silver badge

              Re: One-eyed selectivity

              A different Tim. I’m considerably older, with a background in chemistry and IT...

        2. Black Betty

          Re: One-eyed selectivity

          Thing about EV batteries at the end of their useful life is that there is no reason why they can't be repurposed for use in domestic installations where 70% of new capacity is more than sufficient to power the average home for several days.

        3. John Dawson

          Re: One-eyed selectivity

          To the best of my knowledge no cobalt is used in silicon based solar panels, which account for 90% or more of solar cells. It may be in any associated lithium battery storage but there's not a lot of that. Finally that may change in the future with other types of bulk battery storage (flow batteries for example).

      3. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: One-eyed selectivity

        >Something that we might forget is that once technologically-critical elements have been used they can be recycled.


        Jet engine turbine blades are just landfill.

        Smartphones can be treated as ore but only really for some discrete elements, those that have been combined/alloyed are pretty much just waste...

        1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

          Re: One-eyed selectivity

          > Jet engine turbine blades are...

          ...typically made with cobalt "superalloys"

      4. the Jim bloke

        Re: One-eyed selectivity

        open pit gold mines are economical at grades down to maybe 2 parts per million (2 g/tonne) - possibly lower depending on your waste/ore ratio, chemistry and other costs..

        There was a profitable operation at one of West Australias gold mining towns that was re-treating tailings from the gold rush era - when their metallurgy wasnt as good, so lower recovery/more loss - and I think they were working at around 0.3 or 0.2 g/tonne. Basically all the hard work had been done so they were just hosing the sludge into a treatment tank.

        1. Tim99 Silver badge

          Re: One-eyed selectivity

          Yes, if it’s the one I think it is, they were just adding sodium cyanide to the “tank” (a hole in the ground with a plastic liner) and then extracting the gold complex with carbon. The waste cyanide was left to decompose on the surface.

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: One-eyed selectivity

      "the woketivists didn't pick on the far more relevant mineral to all these manufacturers"

      No, instead they went for the end use companies that people have actually heard of.

      They could have gone after coltan suppliers, but they'd probably never have got anywhere, and no one (except for the OP apparently) would care.

      By going after companies that are household names, they get much more PR, and many more average people will hear about it, and maybe a few of them will think about the sources of the phone in their pocket or the battery in their car.

      Getting damages paid to these 13 workers is a side benefit, getting publicity about all the workers, and the entire industry (by which I mean the entire mining industry) is the main aim.

      Bad publicity for Apple or Tesla will get more done than a lawsuit.

      1. the Jim bloke

        Re: One-eyed selectivity

        getting publicity about all the workers, and the entire industry (by which I mean the entire mining industry)themselves is the main aim

        Sorry, but thats how the article read to me..

        1. sijpkes

          Re: One-eyed selectivity

          Of course the lawyers would get publicity by taking on such a case, this is the side benefit and motivation of taking on a case like this. Isn't that obvious? The point still stands that this will give media attention to the issue of the cobalt supply chain.

  5. Guus Leeuw

    Dear Sir,

    they sue.. good... then they go home and watch... I don't know.... Junior Bake Off!!??

    Best regards,


  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "claim to have 'voluntary programs' to stop themselves"

    I'm sure they do. I have a voluntary program to stop myself from eating too many crisps.

    The beauty of the thing is that . . it's voluntary. So when I feel like it, I open my bag of crisps. When I'm done, I subscribe to my voluntary program again.


  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Capitalism working as intended

    This is how capitalism works. I always wonder why people go into histrionics over Uber, then then go and buy some clothes from primark while surfing on their iphone....

    It's hard to source stuff ethically and keep it cheap for all - for clothes, if you buy from peopletree (which actually source ethically and pay a proper wage) you'll pay a lot more for a t-shirt, but then you'll at least know the kids making your clothes in a Bangladesh sweat shop aren't going to get flattened like they did in the Rana Plaza disaster when the building they're working in collapses...

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Capitalism working as intended

      >It's hard to source stuff ethically and keep it cheap for all - for clothes

      Web Summit: Branded £720 jumpers sell out at 'geek Glastonbury'

      Given the amount of wool in an Aran sweater and assuming they used local hand spun wool and no retail profit, that's roughly:

      £120 VAT

      £100 wool

      £500 for circa 40 hours work ie. £12.50 p/hr

      Obviously, if you go for a machine spun and knitted version then your looking at spending roughly 1/10th of the price.

    2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: Capitalism working as intended

      This isn't capitalism, it's free markets.

      The two usually go hand in hand, but they are not synonyms.

  8. not.known@this.address Silver badge

    But... but... but...

    Electric Vehicles are so clean and pure and will save the planet! There's nothing even remotely harmful or dangerous or controversial in them! They run off unicorn poo paid for with cash from the environmentalists' magic money trees!

    Or cutting the sarcasm, where the hell did these idiots think their expensive toys came from? And how did they think the stuff got here?

    Maybe those of us who have been suggesting the green beanies might like to dig a little deeper into the "magic" for the last few years might have had a point after all?

  9. vishal vashisht

    Typical comments here

    Typical and not surprised by the comments here.

    Well paid IT bods essentially trying to justify slave labour and child labour & calling anyone who wants to do anything about it a bit of a busy body.

    But woe betide anything happening to them..then the world falls apart.

    Actually makes me WANT hmrc to push the loan charge even harder through even though I'm caught by it. Painful but at least it annoys the sh*t ormut of the type of people who think the Greenies should mind their own business and let the tech giants carry on literally killing children.

    1. Fading

      Re: Typical comments here

      I must have missed those comments above? Pretty sure no one was advocating buying their kit from suppliers who were adding the "now sourced from child slave labour" tag line to their products?

      These stories are good for highlighting the hidden issues in complex supply chains and whilst there may be CEOs with maniacal laughs who happily turn a blind eye to human suffering - I thankfully haven't met any.

      So before performing mastication rhinoplasty to spite your face, woudn't promoting awareness amongst your peers be a more constructive path?

  10. naive Silver badge

    Are they banging on the right door ?

    Alphabet, Apple, Tesla etc are not mining companies. Although they are without doubt aware of the substandard labor circumstances involved in obtaining the precious metals, it is not them who are directly to blame.

    It are worldwide operating companies like Glencore who mine in Africa. They are into bribery, paying off officials with a few millions to get mining contracts worth billions. If needed, they finance civil wars within the countries they are mining in to secure their mining sites.

    To let companies like Glencore off the hook in this is the wrong approach, they can then as well sue everyone owning a device containing metals like Cobalt.

  11. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    This is not nearly as simplistic as it is portrayed

    Child labour is not the problem. Poverty is the problem.

    If you simply stop purchasing stuff produced by the exploitation of poor people, then instead of being exploited, those men. women and children will instead do something worse to get food - or simply die of starvation. Which I suppose will ultimately eliminate the moral dilemma. And why focus on just one area anyway? Plenty of common goods are produced by exploiting the poor of all ages. Cheap clothes that sell in the millions, as just one example. The raw ingredients for many medicines are obtained using similar cheap labour. Even the way we dispose of our household waste puts children halfway around the World at risk.

    The same practises took place in the UK up until a century or so ago - the very lifestyle we enjoy today is founded on generations of exploited people all over the World. Just because we managed to raise our standard of living over quite a few decades until we now no longer need to do such things does not mean that it would be possible to suddenly stop doing them in less developed countries without the consequences being far worse for those considered victims than their present conditions. Try going without any food for just 4 days and see how many of your high-and-mighty moral convictions you will be prepared to sacrifice in order to get a bowl of rice to eat. For many 3rd World kids the choices for what to do today are (1) starvation, (2) work in a dangerous mine or factory, (3) become a thief (even more dangerous), or (4) if you are lucky, give 15 minutes or so of sexual favours to a rich local or Western tourist and relax with a full belly for the rest of the day. How would you choose to spend the day?

    Stop colbalt mining etc. and crime & violence will rise, with more thieves (including child thieves) being killed. On the plus side, sex tourism will become a little bit cheaper (until the local family blackmails the tourist, that is).

    I do not have any perfect solution to the problem, but prohibiting the purchase of goods made using what rich Westerners consider morally reprehensible methods is certainly no solution whatsoever - we should do that only *after* the main problem has been solved and we have ensured that the displaced workers will not suffer even more as a result. Which at its most basic means removing the sort of extreme poverty that drives people into working in such dangerous low-paid jobs.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: This is not nearly as simplistic as it is portrayed

      The problem behind the problem, of course, is that many forms of extreme poverty end up being Cold Equations: intractable problems of too many people in a space with not enough arable capacity. As you've said, the black markets are about the only viable alternative to a bloody war (which in many parts of Africa is already taking place anyway).

  12. ratfox
    Paris Hilton

    i guess Tesla does make their own batteries, but the others? And then, Apple and Dell are hardware companies, they make laptops with batteries inside; but Microsoft and Alphabet? Samsung and Lenovo at least would seem to be better targets...

    1. hellwig

      But the raw materials have to come from somewhere. Not sure Tesla owns any cobalt mines.

      Now, I admit I do not know where Tesla gets any of their materials (so I'm not trying to get sued, Elon).

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    They need OSHA and a government that backs them up.

    1. Nunyabiznes

      Re: OSHA

      Their (corrupt) government is the issue. They need a cultural change w/ regards to doing business there.

      OSHA is a good idea, however, I've seen some inspectors that get their jollies by making your life just a little harder - just because they can and you have very little recourse. Yes, that happens with any regulatory body because humans suck, but with OSHA they revel in the power (much like the IRS - necessary therefore untouchable) all the way up the chain.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: OSHA

        So are you saying it's a dilemma: no regulators and they rape us to death, or the regulators rape us to death?

  14. Herby

    Cobol...what's all this I hear about Cobol...

    I thought that Cobol was a perfectly good programming language. I mean it does things like write checks, and keeps my utility bills all correct. Even my cell phone bill was produced with a Cobol program.

    So what is the problem with Cobol...



    Emily, its Cobalt... The element Cobalt... Not Cobol.

    ...Never mind.

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