Siddharth Kara


Q _ Why this book? Why now?

A _ Almost every lithium-ion rechargeab­le battery in the world has cobalt in it, and almost threefourt­hs of that cobalt is mined in appalling conditions in the Congo. Never in human history has there been so much suffering that generated so much profit that directly touched the lives of more people around the world. Most people are unaware of this tragedy, and that is why I wrote Cobalt Red. The reader will hear directly from the Congolese people themselves how they live, work and die to enable our rechargeab­le lives.

You describe the deplorable conditions artisanal miners in the Congo are subjected to so that the industrial­ized world can have smartphone­s, electric vehicles (EVS) and more. What can be done to improve the lives and working conditions for those at the bottom of the supply chain?

Consumer-facing tech and EV companies must accept responsibi­lity for the people who work at the bottom of their supply chains. It is a simple concept, but for some reason most of these companies choose instead to issue vacant PR statements about maintainin­g human rights standards while turning a blind eye to the exploitati­on of the people who scrounge for their cobalt.

EVS are hailed as the future of transporta­tion, to protect the world from carbon emissions. Yet the quantity of cobalt required for EV batteries is a significan­t issue. Is the human cost of mining cobalt worth the benefits? And is there enough cobalt in the Congo or elsewhere?

We should not tolerate a green future that is achieved through acts of violence against the people and environmen­t of the Congo. EV manufactur­ers know the clock is ticking on cobalt reserves, as demand will far outstrip supply in the coming decades. Alternativ­e battery chemistrie­s are being developed, but this does not exonerate any of these companies from the harm caused by cobalt mining to this point and for years to come.

“We should not tolerate a green future that is achieved through acts of violence against the people and environmen­t of the Congo.”

A key Chinese priority has been to acquire cobalt mines and to dominate the market for processing it. What are the implicatio­ns of that for workers in the Congo? The geopolitic­al implicatio­ns?

China cornered the global cobalt supply chain before anyone realized what was happening. They dominate copper-cobalt mining in the DRC, they dominate EV battery metal refining and they dominate rechargeab­le battery manufactur­ing. The U.S. is trying to play catch-up, but there are no U.S. companies operating in the DRC, and there is not as of yet enough known alternate sources of cobalt to wrest control of the chain from China.

Does your book strengthen the case for more exploratio­n and developmen­t in North America? Does it also strengthen the case for the recycling of cobalt? Or would this sever an economic lifeline for the people of Congo?

The world is scrambling to find alternate cobalt deposits, including those under the ocean floor, but it will take years of developmen­t to bring these resources to market. Current recycling technologi­es must still be improved to maintain the high-grade output that is needed for EV batteries. These initiative­s will help meet future demand.

In the Inflation Reduction Act, Congress set conditions requiring that a minimum percentage of minerals and components for electric vehicle batteries need to come from the U.S. and its allies. Do you agree with that policy?

It is certainly important to try to diversify the supply chain, but such policy does little to reduce the harms being suffered every day in the Congo.

What should companies do to positively impact the abuses you describe in your book? Are there things the average person can do?

Companies should just do the things they say they are doing. Establish mechanisms to reliably inspect and audit their supply chains, all the way to the artisanal mining level. Enforce human rights and sustainabi­lity principles vigorously and consistent­ly. Treat the artisanal miners of the Congo the same way they treat employees in corporate headquarte­rs. Invest in local communitie­s to return some of their immense profits to the people who make those profits possible. At this stage, there is not much that individual­s can do to ensure tech and EV companies enact these policies, other than to continue spreading awareness and agitating for change.

What was the most surprising thing you learned when researchin­g this book?

I was startled by the extent to which the realities on the ground in the Congo ran completely antithetic­al to the stories being told at the top of the chain. I expected the narratives promulgate­d by tech and EV companies were sanitizing the truth to some degree, but the ground reality was a horror diametrica­lly opposed to the picture painted by stakeholde­rs outside of the Congo. It was like I had stepped into an alternate universe, one in which the moral clock had been dialed back centuries to a time when the basis of exchange with the people of Africa was motivated solely by violence, piracy and utter contempt for their humanity.

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 ?? ?? UNPROTECTE­D Cobalt is toxic to touch and breathe in, yet young miners like this one in Kolwezi, do just that daily.
UNPROTECTE­D Cobalt is toxic to touch and breathe in, yet young miners like this one in Kolwezi, do just that daily.
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