Cobalt Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo

 cobalt drc


Rights Lab project lead: Siddharth Kara
Funder:  British Academy Global Professorship
Duration: October 2020-September 2024
Programme: Measurement and Geographies

This project will provide the first-ever comprehensive sociological academic study on the human and environmental impacts of cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In addition to establishing the first prevalence estimates of child labour and forced labour in the sector, the project will include robust supply chain tracing from cobalt mines to Western consumers. It will also include assessments of the harmful environmental and public health impacts of cobalt mining. Cobalt is used in the manufacture of every lithium-ion rechargeable battery in the world – including those used in smartphones, tablets, laptops, and electric vehicles. More than two-thirds of the world’s supply of cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, often in extremely hazardous conditions. The people who mine cobalt in the Congo suffer severe injuries, as well as toxic exposure to cobalt through skin and lungs. An unknown number of individuals are also buried alive in tunnel collapses every week. The project includes the use of geospatial observation to map and track artisanal mining activities in the landscape over ten years using satellite imagery supported by GPS ground-truth data. A research report detailing the findings, as well as a companion documentary film and new book for Oxford University Press, will provide powerful testimony of the pressing need to address the immense harms at the bottom of global technology supply chains. Once established, the research model can subsequently be adapted to other commodities across the global economy. 

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