SAN FRANCISCO — Cobalt is a key component of the lithium-ion battery, the rechargeable battery of choice for portable electronics and, increasingly, electric cars. Artisanal miners — a term for impoverished workers who mine by hand — are responsible for 20 percent of the world’s cobalt production. And from child labor to tunnel collapses to lung disease, the growing demand for this mineral, which is expected to double by 2025, comes at a high human cost.
In a new report called Time to Recharge, Amnesty International ranks electronics and car companies according to steps they have taken to improve cobalt sourcing practices. As the demand for rechargeable batteries grows, the focus of human rights organizations is shifting to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than half of the world’s cobalt supply originates, and to the extractives industry. Nearly two years after an Amnesty International investigation exposed links between batteries and child labor in the central African country, progress has been slow in stopping human rights abuses in cobalt supply chains, according to the report.
On Tuesday, Devex attended a roundtable in San Francisco with Shalil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International; Danielle Cass, who recently left the U.S. Agency for International Development to work on Silicon Valley engagement for Amnesty; and a range of other industry leaders, activists, and journalists. They discussed the individual performance of companies, explaining, for example, how Apple is engaging with the Chinese processing company Huayou Cobalt, both of which were represented at the meeting, to address child labor.
On several occasions, the group looked at page 78 of the report, which features overall company ratings, in a conversation that demonstrated how advocacy organizations can go beyond naming and shaming companies to partnering with them to change their practices.