Blockchain Initiatives Could Save Young Children Cobalt Miners in Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), is listed as the world’s poorest nation with a projected 2018 GDP per capita of USD 468. This has been contributed by the continuous civil wars it experiences to date. President Joseph Kabila is holding on to his power beyond the end of his constitutionally mandated two-term limit 19 months ago. This has caused the recent rampant violence which has led to the loss of millions of lives.

At least six million Congolese civilians have died in the past two decades. The conflict in Congo is considered the world’s deadliest since World War II. About 4.5 million Congolese have been displaced from their homes. All these happening are preventing the country from exploiting its resources.

Congo is the world’s largest source of cobalt and Africa’s biggest copper producer. Cobalt which has tripled in value in the past 18 months due to increased demand for electric cars. Congo mines 60% of the cobalt produced worldwide but unfortunately there are numerous informal mining sites mostly worked by children.

Cobalt is a vital element in current lithium-ion batteries needed to power electric cars and products such as smartphones. It is currently in limited supply hence in high demand. Carmakers such as Volkswagen require to secure long-term cobalt supplies to sustain their own electric car production, but need to verify that no child labor is involved in the production.

Blockchain Solutions

A blockchain project is set to be launched this year so as to provide manufacturers of devices, such as iPhones, legit information that guarantees that cobalt in their lithium-ion batteries is not mined by children. Volkswagen also demand guarantees of the same. Automakers Toyota and Honda are planning to switch to solid-state batteries for their electric cars hence reducing the volumes of cobalt required worldwide.

For now, Blockchain is the most suitable solution offering an increased supply chain transparency until an alternative source to cobalt can be found by phone companies and car manufacturers. Mark Dummett, Amnesty International researcher commented,

“You have to be wary of technological solutions to problems that are also political and economic, but blockchain may help. We’re not against it.”

The Responsible Cobalt Initiative set up in 2016 is a program established to tackle risks in the cobalt supply chain arising from artisanal mining. Daimler, Apple, Sony and Volvo are members of the initiative.

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