Countries, Companies and Citizens claim to be doing 100 % to slow the effects of global warming and climate crisis. We are replacing fossil fuels with solar energy and petrol and diesel vehicles with electric vehicles. Currently,green energy is being pitched as the top solution during the climate crisis. Let’s look at the stats of electric vehicles.

Latest reports say in the European Union alone, registration of electric vehicles shot up to 1.3 million units as of 2021. In China alone, the sales numbered 8 million EVs,  topping the list of highest number of EVs. I promise these stats are increasing.  EVs are said to be cleaner and sustainable; but are they?

What’s clean for the environment may not be clean for others. The stories of human trafficking, extreme poverty, and exploitation remain unnoticed.  EVs  run on rechargeable batteries but do you know what are these batteries made of ? Lithium, Cobalt, Nickel, etc. gives the battery high capacitance and stability.


Since the last four decades, the production of lithium ion batteries shot up multi fold. Apart from Lithium, Cobalt is used in these batteries to provide stability and operate in most efficient way. But where do they come from?

Cobalt is bluish colour metal that is usually found on the Earth’s crust. This metal is mostly used in batteries, dyes, and catalysts. More than 50 % is used for manufacturing batteries for electric vehicles.  Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) produces 70 % of the world’s produce, becoming the largest producing country. Russia, Australia and China are next in the list.

But that’s not the point. What we need to understand is the efforts and exploitation that goes behind mining this metal. The material mainstream news portal don’t tell you about.

Congo is synonymous with corruption and poverty, which transcends industrial sectors. Out of 92 million population, around 2 million Congolese directly depend on cobalt mining and production.


Mining is generally divided into two categories here, the industrial mining and the artisanal mining. The industrial mining operate under the government supervision, follows stringent protocols.

 The latter is carried out in small scales without proper tools and machines. This goes without saying that there are no safety protocols, no safety gear for the miners. Miners dig tunnels that are half the size of an adult, most of the times with their bare hands. The quest to produce more cobalt has become extremely detrimental to both human and environmental health.

Almost 40,000 children work directly in these mining operations, some of them are as young as 6 years.   They go on for hours in those narrow tunnels and wash them to extract cobalt. As they walk towards the local market with a sack full of cobalt, they hope to find buyers. How much do they earn by selling cobalt? Despite the multi-million dollar industry of cobalt extraction, the money does not find it’s way to the unfortunate children who do such tasks. They do not even earn 5 dollars a day.

Is it worth risking your life for a few dollars? In a country like Congo where every other person is fighting to survive every single day, yes, few dollars are more worth than your life. This is the sad truth for the people there.


A single lithium battery requires 6 to 12 kilograms of cobalt. As the production goes up, the demand for cobalt shoots.  Congo citizens are willing to ride this wave and overcome poverty and desperate times. It is a necessity for them to send their children to the fields, where they fight with death every day.

What are the factors that lead to the exploitation of children in this area? Several companies buy cheap labour and exploits them to the bone. What better option than employing children to get their work done at minimal wage? The roots of these companies can be traced back to China because it rules the global supply chain of cobalt. Chinese conglomerates own 15 out of 19 industrial mines in Congo.

In return, China promised billions in investment to build infrastructure and institutions. Did any story featuring China end well? History remains unchanged here as well. These companies exploit child labour, placing huge bets on the amount of cobalt they accumulate per day.

The peers of EVs are companies like Tesla, Volvo, Volkswagen, etc. have zero tolerance policy against child labour. Do you know where their cobalt comes from? 30 % of cobalt from artisanal miners reaches the factories of this big companies.   Are they not abetting and aiding these illegal mining activities?

What are the other options? Will we develop another method to exploit human and the environment ? Considering the vast demands, both domestically and internationally to continue these illegal mining, what does the next “sustainable” transition looks like?

Featured Image by frimufilms on Freepik

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