The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Green Vehicles and Smart Devices:
At What Cost?

Mar 5, 2018

Apple, one of the biggest consumer electronics companies, is now in talks to buy cobalt directly from mining companies, according to Bloomberg. Cobalt is a chemical element, and an essential ingredient in lithium-ion batteries.

The lithium-ion batteries are crucial components in powering high-tech necessities in today's society, such as smartphones and computers. About a quarter of global production of cobalt ends up in smartphone batteries. And, Apple is therefore one of the largest consumers of cobalt. Electric vehicles, which are pushed on the people as “green” vehicles, also critically need lithium-ion batteries in large quantities to be able to move on the roads.

Because of this heavy demand, cobalt production has quadrupled since 2000, skyrocketing its price by 230% only within the last two years, according to the Los Angeles Times. So, every company linked with today's so-called mobile and/or green technologies, like Apple, wants to corner the cobalt market.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the largest producer of cobalt ore, a rare mineral. This African country provides close to 60% of cobalt ore to other companies to reduce it to cobalt and manufacture the batteries.

The mining companies operate cobalt mines in Congo under very primitive conditions reminiscent of those that existed more than 200 years ago when industrialization started. Miners, using picks and shovels, hand dig the cobalt ore from underground. The ores are sorted by hand on the ground. These workers are exposed to high levels of poisonous mine dust, working with no gloves, masks, or even shoes – under life threatening conditions. Child labor is common in these mines. About 40,000 boys and girls, some even younger than seven years old, work in mines across Congo, many of them at cobalt sites, according to UNICEF.

These miners are paid one or two dollars a day.

So-called artificial intelligence, information age, and robotic technologies of the 21st century, touted as smart, green and clean by executives of companies like Apple and Tesla, are no help for these miners who dig the crucial ingredients of these technologies by hand. These very low-income workers never will be able to buy and use these 21st-century products manufactured by their labor. These products may be smart, but the capitalist society, under which these products are manufactured, is certainly crazy and barbaric.