UN Warns Electric Automobile Rush is Causing Human Rights Abuses

Child Cobalt Miners in Kailo, Congo - Author Julien Harneis, source Wikimedia.
Child Cobalt Miners in Kailo, Congo – Author Julien Harneis, source Wikimedia.

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

h/t JoNova, MaxD – The United Nations has issued a belated warning that soaring demand for raw materials for the electric vehicle revolution is creating dangerous conditions for children working in toxic mines.

UN highlights urgent need to tackle impact of likely electric car battery production boom

28 June 2020 Climate Change

Electric cars are rapidly becoming more popular amongst consumers, and UNCTAD predicts that some 23 million will be sold over the coming decade: the market for rechargeable car batteries, currently estimated at $7 billion, is forecast to rise to $58 billion by 2024 .

The shift to electric mobility is in line with ongoing efforts to reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change, but a new report from UNCTAD, warns that the raw materials used in electric car batteries, are highly concentrated in a small number of countries, which raises a number of concerns.

Drilling down in DRC, Chile

For example, two-thirds of all cobalt production happens in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about 20 per cent of cobalt supplied from the DRC comes from artisanal mines, where human rights abuses have been reported, and up to 40,000 children work in extremely dangerous conditions in the mines for meagre income.

Read more: https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/06/1067272

JoNova also provides a link to a 2018 Australian ABC report which drills into the Cobalt issue in more detail.

Children mining cobalt in slave-like conditions as global demand for battery material surges

The Signal / By Angela LavoipierreStephen Smiley and Lin Evlin
Posted 25 July 2018

Former child labourer Yannick from Kolwezi, a city of more than 500,000 people in the south of the DRC, dropped out of school and went into full-time work at the age of seven.

“When I was going to the mines it was to look after my family, because there was a lot of suffering,” Yannick said.

Yannick said the work in the mine involved intense physical labour using only a crowbar, and said conditions underground were generally hot and sticky.

He also described former bosses who insisted their underage employees put in long working days without breaks.

People died in the mine, and you could suffocate when you are deep in the mine,” he said.

“When it rained, it created a lot of landslides.

“When we were working there and when someone hurts himself, we could not even look at him — the person had to go and get treated on his own, as we were there to work.

“It is not good to let children work at the mines.

Read more: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-25/cobalt-child-labour-smartphone-batteries-congo/10031330

The UN report also mentions human rights abuses in Chile, with locals in an arid region being deprived of water and forced to relocate, as the water they depend on is being diverted to lithium mining.

What is so important about Cobalt?

Cobalt oxide adds durability to batteries, by supporting chemically stable matrices. This stability prevents the matrix from shattering, when lithium ions migrate in and out of the matrix during violently energetic high power battery discharge and recharge cycles.

There are strenuous efforts to eliminate cobalt from batteries, because it is expensive and because of the human rights abuses associated with Cobalt mining.

For example Tesla has launched a line of cobalt free battery powered vehicles in China. The batteries replace Cobalt oxide with iron phosphate. Anybody who has painted treatment solution primer straight onto rusty steel has already seen the durability of iron phosphate.

If this new iron phosphate battery technology wins broad acceptance, the link might be broken between human rights abuses in Congo, and batteries for electric vehicles and renewable energy backup systems.

There are also efforts to eliminate lithium from batteries, replacing lithium with other alkali metals like sodium, which if successful would take the pressure off vulnerable people living near Lithium mines in the Andean highlands.

Having said that, Lithium might still be used for many applications. Lithium is a very lightweight metal, a lot less dense than sodium. Weight matters in portable devices.

And most of the best experimental sodium batteries use, you guessed it, a Cobalt based electrode.

Regardless of the promise of these new technologies, we’re not quite there yet. For now, the majority of the world’s production ready high energy density rechargeable batteries use Lithium and Cobalt.

Demand for Lithium and Cobalt is surging, as governments and industry rush their plans to electrify the world’s vehicle fleets.

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July 3, 2020 6:07 am

There is just no end to the list of man’s sins (is there?)

Reply to  _Jim
July 3, 2020 7:07 am

Notice the UN is targeting capitalist ventures like auto production!

The solution is capitalist ventures that produce the raw materials needed to produce autos!

The UN doesn’t dare make the connection because that would require electrification of poor countries that are rich in natural resources, and we can’t have that now, can we?

Then the kids could be in school working towards a better future rather than mucking about in a child labor mine!

Reply to  RockyRoad
July 3, 2020 9:02 am

Lets not forget that the UN caused this problem in the first place with the alarmist racket they created with the IPCC’s broken science based on mis-characterizing hope and change as positive feedback that amplifies 0.3C per W/m^2 (1.62 W/m^2 per W/m^2) into 0.8C per W/m^2 (4.4 W/m^2 per W/m^2 of forcing).

It’s absolutely amazing how such an obvious violation of COE (feedback can’t just create the extra Joules being emitted) can do so much damage to politics, economies and the intelligence of those who buy in to the bogus claims.

Dodgy Geezer
July 3, 2020 6:11 am

It’s ruining my human right to have gas-powered automobile.

And I suspect it’s sexist as well, because my car is bound up with a male part of my human anatomy…

Serge Wright
July 3, 2020 6:13 am

The obvious question “Why are the BLM protestors silent on this issue ? “

Old England
Reply to  Serge Wright
July 3, 2020 6:43 am

Because it won’t promote racial tension ….. ? and perhaps also because so much of it being controlled by Communist China which fits with their Marxist aims ?

Reply to  Serge Wright
July 3, 2020 8:23 am

If only those artisanal mines were worked by black people, BLM would be all over this.

Reply to  Mr.
July 3, 2020 9:53 am

Yes, it seems that the lives of black African children don’t matter. BLM is not just a racist organization, it’s xenophobic by considering that only American black lives matter and conservaphobic by considering that conservative black lives don’t matter either. The reason the MSM piles on is because they too suffer from conservaphobia.

I guess we must expect this from an organization based on the “hands up don’t shoot” meme that even the Obama justice department concluded never happened. When the lone conservative in the law school at my alma mater pointed this out, he was pilloried by his elite white peers and the mostly privileged white student body. Apparently, the truth doesn’t matter either.

G Mawer
Reply to  Serge Wright
July 3, 2020 5:59 pm

They probably do not know about it. The MSM is not hawking it.

July 3, 2020 6:18 am

They’re only decades late reporting the obvious to those that have been paying attention and pointed that out repeatedly. And since the Chinese control a lot of the mining and processing, what would one expect?

Bill Powers
Reply to  rah
July 3, 2020 6:51 am

Exactly. The NYTimes, WaPo, ABNBCBS, MS/CNN have been fully aware of this for quite a long time but they had big Socialist Fish to Fry. They are “saving the planet” don’t ya know.
Everybody knows that once Central Authoritarian Global Governance is instituted, no one will be allowed to speak of the inhumanity of cobalt mining so for now they just keep it out of the mainstream here in the states. When the day comes Julien and Eric will be apprehended for writing articles such as this and likely disappear into the cobalt mines themselves

John Law
Reply to  Bill Powers
July 3, 2020 10:13 am

Not a problem; only 1% of population will be driving the electric Zils; comrade!

Just Jenn
July 3, 2020 6:19 am

well duh…..

Climate activists can spin it I”m sure…oh but we’re doing so much “good” for the world…..yea….sure…..right….uh huh……whatever. Because these kids’ world? sucks. So who’s world is it exactly that your demand is making better? Cuz, it ain’t theirs. Or the slag lake residents next to the mine for your wind machete’s either.

Go talk to them about how your vision is making their world better. I dare you.

old white guy
July 3, 2020 6:33 am

But, but, it is “green” right???? right?????

July 3, 2020 6:35 am

Child labor in a dangerous and polluted environment is the argument against the rush to renewable energy.


July 3, 2020 6:35 am

Yah, lets quit using cobalt so that these kids can starve….
/s and a dose of “be careful what you wish for”

Reply to  DMacKenzie
July 3, 2020 8:58 am

All it takes for evil to thrive is for good people to do nothing, DMackenzie. Just close your eyes to the suffering of others and enjoy your toys with you conscience numbed. It’s not your problem, right. Out of sight, out of mind.

Reply to  Richard
July 5, 2020 11:47 am

You would prefer that the children starve?

Bruce Cobb
July 3, 2020 7:34 am

Regardless of where we Skeptics stand on the issue, we can always enjoy the schadenfreude of seeing Greenies agonizing over it. It must create a boatload of cognitive dissonance for them.

July 3, 2020 8:03 am

Don’t the lithium phosphate batteries also not spontaneously catch fire like current EV batteries do?

Reply to  MarkG
July 3, 2020 11:56 am

Per wiki (and I have seen this elsewhere too):

One important advantage over other lithium-ion chemistries is thermal and chemical stability, which improves battery safety. LiFePO4 is an intrinsically safer cathode material than LiCoO2 and manganese spinel, through omission of the cobalt, with its negative temperature coefficient of resistance that can encourage thermal runaway.


July 3, 2020 8:08 am

Perhaps the UN elite are collecticely nostalgic for the good ol days. The days when they were young and produced the greatest car the world had even known. a car that brings tears of joy to their Marxist eye , a car that they will someday bring back for all the world to enjoy once more: the Trabant.

David Kamakaris
July 3, 2020 8:10 am

Well golly jeepers! How does the UN think we will ever attain Green Nirvana without all those raw materials?

Reply to  David Kamakaris
July 4, 2020 3:35 am

…and kids are expendable! Yup, that’s the ticket!

There really are more cost effective ways of extracting mineral wealth–it’s called “economies of scale” by those of us in the mining industry!

And I assure you, kids ain’t it!

July 3, 2020 8:13 am

Are EVs really becoming more popular among consumers? Sales in 2019 were 20% lower than 2018. I would not bet that 2020 will be better.

Popularity among consumers will ultimately be driven by value. New technology is needed to boost value of EVs. When and if it will come remains to be seen.

Vincent Causey
Reply to  Scissor
July 3, 2020 10:12 am

Well the problem is, if people don’t take up EVs voluntarily and in sufficient number, the government will replace the carrot with the stick. That means punitive taxes on the purchase and operation of ICEs to create the necessary market conditions to “persuade” people it is more rational to buy EVs. That would be bad news for ICE drivers.

Reply to  Vincent Causey
July 3, 2020 11:40 am

There is already a program of the stick. It is called “ZEV.” Detroit and Toyota are under pressure from it, because if you don’t increase the number and mileage of your EV sales, you get a $5000 fine “per unit” from the state of California and 10 other state.

July 3, 2020 8:28 am

Is 23 million EVs over the next 10 years a lot for car manufacturers?
I would have thought that would make for a fairly boutique market segment in the global auto industry.

Bill Toland
Reply to  Mr.
July 3, 2020 9:45 am

Global car sales are about 80 million a year so 23 million electric cars over ten years is only 3% of the market. To make all new cars electric would entail a gigantic expansion in mining all over the world. I am not even sure if it is physically possible to do it. Even if it was possible, the huge increased demand for some of the raw materials required would drive up material prices gigantically. This would make electric cars even more expensive than they are today relative to petrol cars. Britain’s decision to phase out petrol cars would eventually restrict cars to the rich; everybody else would have to use public transport. Some greens have openly admitted that this is their objective.

Reply to  Bill Toland
July 3, 2020 11:24 am

Too right Bill.
Maybe we should all now be planning to go long on rickshaw futures?
That would surely appease the green wokesters?
(but only if said rickshaw pullers were not of certain complexions)

July 3, 2020 8:30 am

Let’s clarify those headlines a bit:

“UN Warns Green Policy Rush is Causing Human Rights Abuses”

“UN highlights urgent need to tackle impact of Green policies”

“Children mining cobalt in slave-like conditions as a result of Green Policies”

There, fixed them for ya.

Al Miller
July 3, 2020 8:32 am

Imagine that! Government rushes in to save the day -and makes things worse. Who would have guessed?

Reply to  Al Miller
July 4, 2020 3:39 am

Isn’t that a corollary to the Reagan principle?

July 3, 2020 8:57 am

So they know about this, but their big concern right now is (non-existent) systemic racism in America. You couldn’t make this up. Perhaps if America had put minority children into forced labor camps (slavery), that would be better?

July 3, 2020 9:14 am

There is an interesting paper just published on Li intercalation based batteries by the Electrochemical Society in tribute to the researcher Michel Armand :
(J electrochem soc vol 167 , no7, Devaraj Shanmukaraj et al)
Title is :
Review—Towards Efficient Energy Storage Materials: Lithium Intercalation/Organic Electrodes to Polymer Electrolytes—A Road Map (Tribute to Michel Armand)
and it is open access.
It contains a short history of the intercalation concept and looks forward to further developments , including a Li-air battery. It also calculates the % energy requirement for EU countries if 80% of vehicles are electric by 2050.
For those who do not know it the Electrochemical Society (founded in US) has been around for over 100 years,
and in that time has published leading work on materials and procsses for electrorefining , electroplating, battery materials and performance , vacuum devices , the processing of silicon for early transistors , LCD materials and display performance , lamp and CRT phosphors and of course LED phosphors . It now even publishes on sensors for electrochemical detection of prostate specific antigen (of interest to some of us I suspect). Just lately many articles are open access. well worth a visit .

Smart Rock
July 3, 2020 9:32 am

The mines where these children work to produce cobalt, are parts of former industrial-scale mining operations that have been essentially abandoned by the companies that previously operated them.

This whole disastrous mess could be cleaned up by a responsible government re-licensing these mine sites to real mining companies who know how to operate safely and cleanly. Adults could get jobs with decent wages and child miners could go to school.

If the DRC had a responsible government.

PS before the cobalt boom started happening, the child slave miners were mainly picking out columbo-tantalite because tantalum is fairly rare, fairly valuable, and widely used in computers, smart phones etc. The industrialized world survived the guilt from that scandal without any significant damage, so I see no reason to assume that the cobalt-based guilt is going to have any effect. Just more wasted lives in a third-world country that nobody really cares about, a country abandoned by its former Belgian colonists, who exploited its mineral wealth without giving back anything that could form the basis of a civil society.

Big T
July 3, 2020 9:35 am

While in the Congo, (Zaire) at that time, the UN was in the pocket of Mobutu. Does that tell you something? It hasn’t changed much. Exploitation of little people goes on and on. Some areas are beautiful——for the rich.

Gary Pearse
July 3, 2020 9:42 am

There is so much wrong with this report and I’ve repeatedly given critiques of it and criticized Paul Driessen of CFACT on it . Im not going to repeat it all.

1) Much of the sensationalism on the subject of child labor in Africa originated from the days of the Hutu massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda/Burundi. Tutsis operated much of the artisanal mines in Eastern DR Congo but much of this was taken over by Hutu genocidists after the massacre, and this was the well known “coltan” (Columbium-Tantalum) production. The element now known as Niobium was (in USA) called columbium. Nb,Ta are used in capacitors for electronics, metal carbide tools and equipment, jet engine turbines, etc.

2) It’s bad enough that nearly all this hype about child labor under murderous overlords is a product of anti-development, anti- capitalism propaganda by lefty NGOs. The truth is that most of these artisanal ops are family owned and operated and the families are better off than those outside of resource rich areas. And they can be found around the world. China has countless family ops. Latin America, all of Africa and throuout Asia. In earlier generations child labor was universal on farms, in mines, factories, street hawkers, etc.

In many areas, conditions have been improved, and with full development the need for child labor in arduous and dangerous occupations will disappear.

You have to be sceptical about everything in a fake news world. You have to inform yourself- do your own research (made difficult by Google and other political filters). And for homework, guess who has been holding these poor people back from development and prosperity?

Reply to  Gary Pearse
July 3, 2020 11:28 am

Collateral-Damaged Lives Matter!

Climate believer
Reply to  Gary Pearse
July 3, 2020 2:36 pm

Mr Pearse said
“In many areas, conditions have been improved, and with full development the need for child labor in arduous and dangerous occupations will disappear.”

I’m sure you have a lot of knowledge concerning this problem, and I fully understand the need for these families to find work where they can in an otherwise barren landscape, but I can’t share your optimism on the disappearance of child labour anytime soon.

I’m presuming you’re not so naive as to believe the change will come from the government of the DRC and their supposed commitment to eliminating child labour in the mining sector by 2025, about which in any case they have little to no interest, and neither is it going to come from the Chinese mine owners, who as you point out, culturally don’t have a problem with it either.

I also don’t think it’s right to compare children from previous generations working, for example, with their parents on say a farm, doing chores, gathering hay etc. to the abysmal, toxic conditions without any protection that these poor unfortunate souls find themselves in 12 hours a day. This fact is not hype.

Don’t get me wrong, let the adults work their artisanal mines, this is about the children, the under 16’s that are crushed by this way of living, physically and psychologically. It’s just not right, and in the long run will not help pull that country out of poverty.

Reply to  Gary Pearse
July 4, 2020 3:43 am

Progressives!… (who are anything but progressive!)

July 3, 2020 10:00 am

the fight against healthy happy, prosperous, dark skinned people continues by the greens.
Black live don’t matter unless they are useful for agitprop..

July 3, 2020 10:39 am

” ….. harmful greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change, …. ”


Didn’t think so.

July 3, 2020 11:30 am

Well, this situation was not any different a few years ago. Why do they SUDDENLY see the light?
Let’s put those magic BS-filter sunglasses on… 🕶 «OBEY» …okay, it’s the logo, what’s under it?
«Looks like maybe it’s becoming actually useful. Also, Elon Musk is not our friend anymore.»

John in Oz
July 3, 2020 3:23 pm

This is a June 2019 quote from the South Australian Liberal Party (in power at the moment) and shows how blinkered they are about the plight of the people in the UN report.

“We need to rapidly accelerate to a smarter grid,” van Holst Pellekaan said.
“We’re no longer in a world where there is a baseload of demand with a predictable daily peak. We’re now in a world where you must forecast both supply and demand, and then dispatch or constrain one or the other or both to balance the system.”
“A new world of peaks and troughs of both supply and demand. That requires demand to be much smarter and more flexible, and new loads such as
batteries and electric cars to soak up supply at the right times.
“That’s why electric vehicles will be another major focus area for us this year.

It appears that they consider the electricity grid to be a simple mechanism that can be controlled on a second by second basis in order to control supply and demand using an intermittent supply. We should prepare ourselves for being supplied with a very complex timetable for when we can charge our electric vehicles, do the washing, have air conditioning, etc.
I’ll be sending the UN’s concern for the plight of child miners to the relevant minister (who also made the above statements).

Michael Jankowski
July 3, 2020 3:25 pm

Yet somehow Tesla has the largest market cap of any car manufacturer.

Roger Knights
July 3, 2020 8:32 pm

Glencore to sell cobalt to Tesla for new car plants – FT

Jun. 16, 2020 7:25 AM ET|About: Glencore plc (GLCNF)|By: Carl Surran, SA News Editor
Glencore (OTCPK:GLCNF) will sell cobalt to Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) for use in vehicles being produced at new car plants in China and Germany, Financial Times reports.

The deal could involve Glencore supplying as much as 6K tons/year of the metal a year for use in lithium-ion batteries, according to the report.

The agreement is in line with other recent contracts Glencore has struck, including a four-year deal in February to supply as much as 21K tons to battery producer Samsung SDI.

Roger Knights
July 3, 2020 8:38 pm

From the JoNova article linked to athlete top:

As Thomas Williams says at Breitbart – we’re only talking about one hundred thousandth of a degree C:

For his part, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said that in 2018, electric cars saved 40 million tons of CO2 worldwide, sufficient to reduce global temperatures by a mere 0.000018°C — or a little more than a hundred-thousandth of a degree Celsius — by the end of the century.

“If you think you can save the climate with electric cars, you’re completely wrong,” Birol said.

Bob Daye
Reply to  Roger Knights
July 5, 2020 5:26 am

Private vehicles are idle 95% of their life span.
Going all electric will do nothing.

AR Clapham
July 4, 2020 12:47 pm

As the co2 is lessened this will be a disaster, we will face mass starvation, I remember farm crops when I was young during the 1940/50s were a fraction of where they are today, Potatoes cereals sugar beet and all farm crops have doubled and trebled thanks to C 02. If we rid ourselves of Co 2 crops will diminish, and starvation will become rife!

Wally Warbles
July 6, 2020 2:46 pm

s long astthe Polar Bears dont come to harm liberals and their Hollywood backers dont give a darn about how the colbalt for their Eco-Friendly electric cars can carry them to their next Greenpeace Confab

Robert Maginnis
July 8, 2020 10:51 am

Bolivia has lots of lithium for batteries, but indigenous Evo Morales was overthrown and a non-elected white woman is running the country after protesters were killed. Morales said it was about the lithium, which he didn’t want to mine so fast.


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