The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

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

Real Price of “Green” Vehicles

Dec 6, 2021

So-called “green energy” electric vehicles have a cost that’s never counted—for those doing the labor to make these vehicles, and for those mining the raw materials going into them. One essential material used to manufacture rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles is cobalt, which must be mined.

Congo’s mines provide close to 70% of the world’s cobalt, under horrendous conditions. Many miners do not earn a living wage, have little or no health protections, and work long, long hours in unsafe working conditions, with degrading treatment. Many miners feel hopeless because they cannot pull themselves or their families out of poverty. One miner in Congo said, “We were working hard, without any breaks, for $2.50 a day. If you didn’t understand what the boss said to you, he would slap you in the face. If you had an accident, they would just fire you.”

Because cobalt is a highly prized material, workers and their children in Congo also mine cobalt, by grabbing a pickax and shovel and starting to dig. They are known as “artisanal miners.” As much as 30% of Congo’s cobalt production comes from artisanal mining. In these makeshift mines, some artisanal miners die after pits and tunnels they dig collapse. Most of them suffer poor health at a young age.

Giant automakers like Ford, Honda, General Motors, and Tesla buy cobalt battery components to manufacture their electric vehicles. These are enormously profitable companies, with Tesla, producing only electric vehicles, now valued at more than a trillion dollars.

Other companies claim they will produce only electric vehicles after 2030. Because of this electric vehicle hype, the demand for cobalt is skyrocketing. And with this demand, cobalt prices are soaring.

But these soaring cobalt prices do not improve the social conditions of Congo’s workers. In 2018, three quarters of the Congolese people, about 65 million people, lived on less than the international poverty rate of $1.90 a day. Congo has the third-largest population of poor people in the entire world.

Under capitalism, everything comes at a dire price for the working class. While corporate managers boast, this system consumes cobalt miners’ lives.