Child Labor in Congo

Daniel Sabin, Staff Writer

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Lithium batteries are used every day in your phone, computer, and even electric cars, but do you know the dark side of where they come from?  The majority of rechargeable batteries have lithium that was mined by child labor.

 

Cobalt, which is one of the main components of lithium batteries has been in increasingly high demand as smart phones and laptops have become common everyday items.  The reason lithium batteries are in everything is they are easily rechargeable which makes them great for cell phones and electric cars.

 

An interesting fact: 50% of the worlds cobalt is sourced the Congo and the mining of this mineral has transformed some parts of the country.  Natives have started tearing up their yards looking for the precious material and in an effort to sustain their family.

 

The cobalt mining is also causing environmental degradation as well.  Not only just the thousands of holes dug in the ground but explosive mining is also being used. Entire cliff sides are being blown up and mined.

 

Child labor has become an increasingly large problem.  Children are worked way more hours than they are physically able too and are paid virtually nothing.  Because of this mining companies are able to sell their ore to producers for very cheap. Child labor is also extremely hard to track in Congo due to the long chain of buyers and middle men.  A good movie which shows this exploitation of children and other laborers came out recently. It’s called “Sara’s Notebook.”

 

CNN managed to go to Congo but the mining companies who exploited child labor desperately tried to cover up that they were using child labor by quickly sending the children away from the worksite.  

 

One woman that CNN interviewed worked 12 hours to make about 7 dollars cobalt mining.  In the U.S. minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

 

“As far as potential solutions go, I think first more people need to know about it,” says Clairemont High School science teacher Amy Clark. “I think as consumers we need to put pressure on the companies who use that material and stop buying from those companys or put pressure on them to stop buying from those suppliers.”   

 

“I don’t know what to do,” says CHS student Jake Reedholm, “it just seems so far away; it’s in a whole other country.”

 

It is difficult to put pressure on a lot of these companies since often times producers don’t know if the lithium is mined using child labor.  Companies like Tesla, Apple, and Samsung source the majority of their lithium from the Congo, and it is these companies that need the pressure to make sure there is no child labor involved in their batteries.  Students can put pressure on these companies by boycotting their products and by raising awareness that this is happening.

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