AN ETHICAL MINEFIELD
Hear the word artisanal and you’ll likely think of sourdough or cheeses; however, it has a more sinister connotation when it comes to cobalt mining. Promoted as an alternative to industrial mining, which has serious environmental consequences, artisanal mining frequently sees poorly paid workers engaged in a backbreaking process of gathering cobalt by hand, often without protective equipment such as gloves or masks. The threats posed to workers are grave and numerous: physical injury from tunnel collapses are common, as are breathing difficulties from the dust created from breaking up rocks, while there is growing evidence of a link between the toxic fallout from mining and birth defects. And it’s not only adults enduring these conditions, Amnesty International and CBS News have reported on the use of child labour in the mines, with even those too young to work subjected to the hazards on their mothers’ backs while they work.