Child Miners Exploited for Electric Car Batteries-Misleading! 

Summary of eRumor:

Reports that child miners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, some as young as four years old, are forced to mine cobalt needed to make electric car batteries have gone viral.

The Truth:

Exploitation of child miners in the Congo, where most of the world’s cobalts reserves are located, is a big problem — but the notion that demand for electric cars is the sole reason is misleading for a number of reasons.

Most claims about child miners of cobalt originate from a segment that appeared on the U.K’s Sky TV in March 2017 under the headline,”Inside the Congo cobalt mines that exploit children.” The report shows children, only four years old, working in cobalt mines. The cobalt is then sold to Chinese exporters who sell it to a parent company that then supplies it to the makers of Lithium-ion batteries used in smartphones and mobile gadgets:

The report gained steam in August 2017 when the U.K’s Daily Mail re-reported the story and with a new (and misleading) angle: children are “living in hell so you can drive an electric car.” The claim is misleading because electric cars account for only a portion of the world’s demand for cobalt, and the top electric car producer in the U.S. has committed to sourcing cobalt exclusively from North America.

Lithium-ion batteries account for about 42 percent of the world’s usage of cobalt, a byproduct of nickel and copper that’s used in Lithium-ion cells. It should be noted that the 42 percent figure includes all of the world’s smartphones, tablets and gadgets that rely on Lithium-ion cells. Electric car batteries are a relatively small sliver of it. The majority of the world’s cobalt, the remaining 58 percent, is used for industrial and military purposes, the Cobalt Development Institute reports. So, electric car batteries are one of many products that have contributed to increased demand for cobalt.

And Tesla founder Ellon Musk has committed to sourcing all the cobalt needed to make the company’s Lithium-ion cells from mines in North America, avoiding mines in Africa where child mining and exploitation runs rampant. Given that Tesla plans to manufacture 500,000 electric cars in 2018, however, critics have pointed out that the U.S. and Canada produce just 4 percent of the world’s cobalt supply, which is no where near the amount Tesla and other electric car manufacturers need.

Tech Crunch notes that Tesla and other electric vehicle makers have a few options. They could rely on innovation and find cobalt substitutes, they could produce Lithium-ion cells containing a cobalt mixture, the could rely more on recycling cobalt  (15 percent of U.S. cobalt usage is already recycled), and they could support exploration of new cobalt reserves in North America.

The last option, cobalt exploration exploration in North America, would likely lead to “enough known land sources of cobalt to last for at least 100 years and for many, many more years if speculative and hypothetical resources for deep sea, ocean floor resources are taken into account,” according to CDI.

In the end, the use of child miners for cobalt in Africa is a major problem that has been accurately documented across various reports, with as many as 40,000 child miners working in Democratic Republic of the Congo’s southern region in 2014. But the Daily Mail report blaming the issue entirely on electric cars is misleading for the reasons stated above.

A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

Collected on: 08/09/2017
child miners cobalt report
A social media user reacts to a misleading report that electric cars are to blame for child miners of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.