US Turns to Country Notorious for Child Labor and Unsafe Mines to Source Its EV Ambitions



In order to facilitate electric vehicle (EV) production, the U.S. is seeking to spend taxpayer dollars to develop cobalt supply chains from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country which is known for high prevalence of unsafe child labor in its mines, many of which are controlled by Chinese interests, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of Labor (DOL) are jointly committing $23 million in taxpayer funds to U.S. firms and other mining companies to integrate local Congolese operations and “artisanal” mines into their supply chains, as well as to improve labor standards for miners in the DRC, which are essentially nonexistent in most cases, according to the WSJ. Chinese-controlled interests dominate the DRC’s cobalt industry, refining about 75% of the global cobalt supply and manufacturing approximately 70% of the world’s lithium-ion batteries, which are cobalt-intensive products that power EVs.

Cobalt is one of the key materials needed to build batteries for EVs, a technology which the Biden administration is pursuing aggressively as a pillar of its sweeping climate agenda, according to the Cobalt Institute. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed stringent new tailpipe emissions standards in April which would effectively require American automobile manufacturers to have their new fleets be 67% EVs after model year 2032, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration unveiled a proposal to update the Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements that would, if finalized, amount to “an EV mandate,” Dan Kish, senior fellow for the Institute for Energy Research, told the Daily Caller News Foundation at the time. (RELATED: Chinese EV Company Buys Up Michigan Land For Battery Factory Despite Public Backlash)

People can’t afford EVs

— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) July 18, 2023

Widespread adoption of EVs is set to facilitate the Biden administration’s goal of having the U.S. economy reach net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. The idea behind the spending is to incentivize American technology companies and auto manufacturers to invest in establishing safer and more ethical Congolese supply chains which will in turn bolster their businesses, but corporate concerns regarding security and governance in the country persist.

Nearly a third of the DRC’s cobalt is extracted by “artisanal” miners, meaning that the unearthed material and the mines it comes from are not contracted to any particular corporation, according to the WSJ. Western countries have historically tried to not rely on artisanal miners, who generally sell their ores to local merchants who then sell the product to corporations and refiners.

Hundreds of thousands of people labor as artisanal miners in the DRC, a figure which is much larger than the number of people employed by more established operations which utilize heavy machinery, according to the WSJ. There were about 40,000 children laboring in unsafe Congolese cobalt mines as of 2021, according to the Wilson Center.

Previous attempts by Western institutions, such as a Swiss company, to organize the DRC’s artisanal mining have so far resulted in failure, according to the WSJ.

Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey introduced the Countering China’s Exploitation of Strategic Metals and Minerals and Child and Forced Labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo Act in June, which would prohibit the importation of all products containing cobalt and lithium extracted by child miners and victims of labor trafficking in the DRC if it becomes law.

The White House, USAID and DOL all did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

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Tom Halla
September 12, 2023 2:08 pm

A replay of King Leopold of Belgium?

September 12, 2023 2:14 pm

They are getting the Saudis to fund it and look the other way for them before China does the same.

Reply to  ResourceGuy
September 12, 2023 7:15 pm

Makes more sense. Sadi is a sovereignwealth fund.

Rud Istvan
September 12, 2023 2:30 pm

Cobalt has a lot of uses other than EV LiIon NMC cathodes. Global annual consumption is about 135,000 metric tons. DRC artisanal cobalt mining child labor will happen with or without EVs.

There are other reasons to be skeptical of the US EV momentum:

  1. They are much more expensive.
  2. They are fire prone.
  3. They induce range anxiety. And Superchargers used frequently to solve the problem shorten battery life and void warranty.
  4. Most of the EV Charging energy comes from coal and nat gas generation so EV’s merely shift the ‘carbon pollution elsewhere. Renewables would mean 3/4 of the time you could not charge EVs.
  5. There isn’t a climate crisis, The climate models are provably wrong.
Reply to  Rud Istvan
September 12, 2023 2:54 pm

Cobalt is valuable as an alloying element in high strength and tool steels.

J Boles
Reply to  Shoki
September 12, 2023 2:56 pm

Yes, and in jet engine turbine blades.

Mike McMillan
Reply to  J Boles
September 12, 2023 5:42 pm

Yes, and who are we to deny those children a chance to earn a little extra for their college funds?

Reply to  Mike McMillan
September 12, 2023 7:17 pm

ROTFLMAO is supposed to to be a euphemism… good one Mike McMillan

Dave Andrews
Reply to  Mike McMillan
September 13, 2023 7:40 am

The thing is if those children and others did not work in the artisanal mines they would probably suffer even greater poverty than they already do.

Reply to  Dave Andrews
September 13, 2023 11:02 am

Because WHY?

Mike McMillan
Reply to  Dave Andrews
September 13, 2023 12:14 pm

That’s true. There are more than two sides to this story. A little kid wedging into a dangerous crevasse to get some cobalt may be the difference between one meal on Sunday, or two.

Kids should be out playing cowboys and Indians or exploring the woods when they’re not in school, but that just isn’t the case for a billion or two of them. Some problems just don’t have solutions.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Rud Istvan
September 12, 2023 5:11 pm

Right on, Rud. In every region in Africa, South America and SE Asia blessed with mineral wealth, there are artisanal miners, and often family groups taking advantage of this lucky situation. Even in America, up until the early decades of the 20th century young folk were employed hand-picking and hand-cobbing (breaking waste off chunks of ore ore with a small hammer to upgrade.

In the mid 1960s I worked for the Geological Survey of Nigeria and one duty was assisting local miners with opening up small deposits of cassiterite (tin ore, sapphires, lead-zinc, tantalum …), concentrating the ore by sluice boxes, hand-picking, etc. Women carried the ore from the pit in calabashes on there heads to where boys and men, broke it down with hammers, and others sluiced it or picked and put the concentrate into baskets. The whole village was employed.

Invariably, the miners were very much better off, better fed and clothed than their poorer compatriots. Here is a photo I’ve seen a hundred times in articles bemoaning the plight of Congolese cobalt miners. The first thing you see is how well they are dressed.

Reply to  Gary Pearse
September 13, 2023 11:04 am

Some of them are so rich they even have 5 gallon plastic buckets to sit on while working.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Drake
September 13, 2023 12:14 pm

It’s interesting how people will stubbornly believe old ‘urban’ legends. This is a photo of the “poor” cobalt miners (read what the link says!). I’ve spent a good many years working in the minerals and metals field professionally in many parts of the world, including a number of African, Latin American and Asian countries.

Oh, and a plastic bucket of high grade cobalt concentrate is worth about 50 bucks!

Reply to  Gary Pearse
September 13, 2023 5:40 pm

You need to be careful when judging the clothing they wear. Often they obtain that second hand. We are so wealthy that we discard good clothing and what doesn’t sell in the second hand shops can find it’s way into poor countries. They may still pay for it but they pay far less than it sold for new.

September 12, 2023 2:55 pm

Are they minors or miners? Both?

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Shoki
September 12, 2023 3:15 pm

minor miners—both

Reply to  Rud Istvan
September 12, 2023 4:01 pm

It was aporia. I just enjoy ambiguous homophones.

Reply to  Shoki
September 12, 2023 4:13 pm

keep your malodorous pheromones to yourself before I misgender you

Gary Pearse
September 12, 2023 3:44 pm

I’ve commented on these hyped African child labor stories put out by anti development NGOs before. They’ve been doing this from the 1960s. I’m disturbed that Crisis Climate sceptics have bought into this stuff as a lazy way to fight against renewables. That they included lithium as a product of child labor in the Congo in the new legislation is just false and ignorant. Here is the list of countries that produce lithium.

Now having said this, there are recent developments in the Congo on lithium resources by two companies a Canadian one and an Australian one -no children involved!

Reply to  Gary Pearse
September 12, 2023 4:22 pm

With 4 million more people worldwide dying from the colder weather, mainly through increased heart attacks and strokes, then are dying from hotter weather, what is the point off keeping it cold? We are already in a crisis of deaths from the cold. The Earth is still in ice age, 20% of the Earth is covered by permafrost or glaciers.

Reply to  scvblwxq
September 12, 2023 4:24 pm

dying each year

Reply to  scvblwxq
September 12, 2023 6:46 pm

4 million more people worldwide dying from the colder weather

what is the point off keeping it cold?

Isn’t that reason enough? Malthus would certainly approve.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  scvblwxq
September 13, 2023 12:22 pm

I can’t see how this is a reply to me? I agree fully with your comment completely!

September 12, 2023 3:44 pm

Given that the Biden administration and Democratic Party sold the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 to the American people, they’ll have no problem whatsoever selling the Democrat Republic of Congo.

Reply to  ToldYouSo
September 12, 2023 4:23 pm

That wasn’t shown on American TV.

Reply to  scvblwxq
September 12, 2023 7:23 pm

Of course not. Trump. Trump, Trump. Trump, Trump, Trump. American TV formula was soooooooo old. Luckily the Internet is fixing it.

John Oliver
September 12, 2023 5:12 pm

Artesian labor- trades people that make things by “ hand”. So miners doing mining by.. so implying less mechanization . But is it 5% or 50 . By hands not efficient. But you can have some hybrid concepts where you have a mix of heavy machinery modern mining equipment and still horrible working conditions. But been going on in mining for centuries- so , I don’t know.

John Oliver
Reply to  John Oliver
September 12, 2023 5:20 pm

Any volunteers to go to the Congo and specifically check out all the mines?

Reply to  John Oliver
September 12, 2023 7:26 pm

Engineer would prefer machines, but foreign labor is available so cheap (list price at least)..

Edward Katz
September 12, 2023 6:10 pm

There’s a terrific amount of irony in stories like this. According to a recent article in Canada’s National Post newspaper, North America possesses ample reserves of minerals like cobalt, lithium, nickel, copper and the rare earths for building solar panels and EV batteries. Yet the green lobbyists are opposed to even the most modest plans for their extraction. Maine and Nevada have ample deposits of these minerals, but the Biden administration and supposedly progressive states vigorously block such mining even though they created the demand for such products in the first place. Evidently it’s better to import the stuff from countries whose environmental laws and human rights are largely non-existent. Is it any wonder that green credibility is often a myth?

Reply to  Edward Katz
September 12, 2023 6:51 pm

Don’t forget the 10% for biasing the flow.

September 12, 2023 7:13 pm

The United States …. Department of Labor … committing $23 million in taxpayer funds … to integrate local Congolese operations….

Huh? Taxes from US workers (ok, debt to be paid by, at this point) used to fund foreign lower cost competition to US workers? Its not my fight, but how long will unions skew D?

general custer
September 13, 2023 5:21 am

In the US “children” find employment with fast food drive-ins, mowing lawns, delivering food, etc. Maybe they should encourage the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo buy Burger King franchises, plant more extensive lawns and use their new magic phones to order pizza delivery so the kids don’t have to work in artisanal mines to pay their phone contracts.

Ronald Stein
September 13, 2023 7:29 am

The White House, USAID and DOL may be delinquent in reading and UNDERSTANDING the content of the Pulitzer Prize nominated book Clean Energy Exploitations – Helping Citizens Understand the Environmental and Humanity Abuses That Support Clean Energy

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