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Congo’s Child Cobalt Miners Can Be Saved by Blockchain Initiatives

Cobalt mining involving children in the Democratic Republic of Congo could be heavily reduced by applying blockchain solutions to the problem.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), devastated by a protracted war which has caused the death of 5.4 million people, is listed as the world’s poorest nation. A project is set to be launched this year using blockchain in order to provide manufacturers of devices, such as iPhones, genuine information that guarantees that cobalt in their lithium-ion batteries is not mined by children. The tracking of cobalt in the Congo is an enormous problem due to numerous informal mining sites and many of them being worked by children.

Congo holds half of the world’s cobalt reserves and the demand for the main mineral component of lithium-ion batteries is set to surge as electric cars proliferate. According to Reuters, in 2016, Congo mined 54% of the total 123,000 tons of cobalt produced worldwide. Also, automaker Volkswagen is trying to secure long-term cobalt supplies to sustain their own electric car production, but need verification that no child labor has been involved in the production.

The proliferation in the use of lithium-ion has led to the increased volume demands. As a part of the deal, Volkswagen has made a move to demand guarantees that no children have been involved in the production process. Meanwhile, Toyota and Honda are planning to switch to solid-state batteries for their electric cars. These factors alone may reduce the volumes required worldwide.

Blockchain will offer much-increased supply chain transparency until a solution to finding an alternative source to cobalt can be found by phone companies and car manufacturers. Amnesty International researcher Mark Dummett said, “You have to be wary of technological solutions to problems that are also political and economic, but blockchain may help. We’re not against it.”

Amnesty International is currently exploring the possibility of implementing blockchain technology to address the problem of child labor by enabling consumers to choose a mine to make their purchase. Illegal mines would have no registration and thereby easily identifiable through blockchain.

German carmaker Daimler (DAIGn.DE) has recently joined the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, a programme established under a Chinese industry body to tackle risks in the cobalt supply chain arising from artisanal mining. The initiative, set up in 2016 includes Apple, Sony, and Volvo and was established by the China Chamber of Commerce of Metals, Minerals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters.

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