How modern-day slavery in Congo is powering the rechargeable battery business in the world

Ben Ebuka April 26, 2023
The cobalt mining sector in Congo is tainted with illegal mining, child labor, corruption, modern slavery, trafficking, and dangerous working conditions Photo Credit: Afrewatch

The advancement in technology has created more demand for computers, electric vehicles, and other electronic gadgets, which has resulted in an increase in the production of more gadgets. These electronic devices are mostly powered by rechargeable batteries, which have increased the demand for cobalt, one of the components used in the production of rechargeable batteries. However, the booming business of tech, cobalt mining, and rechargeable batteries are yielding huge profits for the industry players at the expense of the poorest communities in Africa.

Despite having exceptional natural resources, DRC has remained a very poor country with most citizens surviving on less than $2 a day. According to the World Bank, DRC is among the five poorest nations in the world. In 2021, nearly 64% of Congolese, just above 60 million people, lived on less than $2.15 a day, and about one out of six people living in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa live in DRC.

The poverty in DRC has created room for the exploitation of the large labor force and the vast resources in the country without any meaningful development and gain to the living conditions of the Congolese. DRC is currently the leading producer of cobalt in the world, accounting for 70% of global production. However, about 200,000 workers in the Congo mines are exploited in flagrant violation of the mining and labor laws and other related laws in the country. The cobalt mining sector is tainted with illegal mining, child labor, corruption, modern slavery, trafficking, and dangerous working conditions.

Siddharth Kara, who has been researching modern-day slavery, human trafficking, corruption, and child labor in the DRC cobalt industry for more than two decades, in his book, Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives, chronicled the lethal situations in the mines where many Congolese of varied ages are working to earn a living.

In a recent interview with NPR, an independent, non-profit media organization, Siddharth Kara extensively discussed the inhumane and exploitative situation in the DRC mines, highlighting the reality of the degrading conditions under which “artisanal” miners work; how children, women, and girls are so vulnerable and so heavily exploited; corruption; China’s influence and dominance in the global cobalt market; and how the supply chain needs to be fixed. 

Visit for the full interview.

Last Edited by:Editor Updated: September 25, 2023


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