Cobalt Mines, Child Labor, and Consumer Demand

January 5, 2020
Cobalt Mines, Child Labor, and Consumer Demand

Cobalt demand has risen in the past twenty years since it is an essential element in rechargeable lithium batteries.  Demand is expected to increase as electric car popularity grows.

A lawsuit has been filed against Apple, Tesla, Microsoft, and other companies by the International Rights Advocates claiming that these companies knowingly profited from children laboring in cobalt mines under brutal conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Video Spotlight:

This post is based on the MarketWatch article, Apple, Microsoft, Tesla, accused of profiting from child labor in cobalt mines, by Associated Press, December 17, 2019, and the YouTube videos listed in the Video Spotlight. Image source: BananaStock/Getty Images

Discussion Questions:

1. Perform a web search on cobalt mining in Africa.  Perform a web search on the demand for cobalt in battery production.  What do you think is likely happening in the Congo’s cobalt mines regarding the use of child labor and work safety?

Guidance: This question is designed to get students to reflect on the competing demands for sourcing enough cobalt weighed against the social responsibilities of a company.  It may help to review the Triple Bottom Line before starting this discussion.

2. What should a company do to prevent suppliers from using child labor and creating dangerous working conditions?

Guidance: Students should identify that strategic sources require periodic, if not continual, monitoring in many parts of the world.  Ask  students to identify and describe options a company might employ to deter abusive labor practices by their suppliers.  Examples include having alternative sources available and contract penalties for failure to meet fair and safe labor practices.


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