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Congolese Cobalt Mines: Child Modern-Day Slavery at the Heart of Tech Industry

Introduction The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) stands as one of the world's most resource-rich nations, holding vast reserves of cobalt, a vital component in modern technology. However, beneath the...


The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) stands as one of the world's most resource-rich nations, holding vast reserves of cobalt, a vital component in modern technology. However, beneath the surface of this wealth lies a grim reality: the exploitation of children in dangerous cobalt mines. This practice not only robs these children of their childhood but also perpetuates modern-day slavery, with the complicity of the tech industry.

The Plight of Children in Congolese Cobalt Mines

In the cobalt-rich mines of the DRC, children as young as six years old toil under hazardous conditions, risking their lives and health for meager wages. These children often work long hours in dark and cramped tunnels, exposed to toxic substances without proper protective gear. The prevalence of accidents, injuries, and even fatalities is shockingly high, with little to no access to medical care or compensation for the victims and their families.

The root cause of this tragedy can be traced back to poverty and a lack of alternative opportunities for families in the region. With limited access to education and economic resources, parents are often forced to send their children to work in mines to supplement household income. The cycle of poverty perpetuates as these children are deprived of education and trapped in a vicious cycle of exploitation.

As previously mentioned in the introduction, the DRC stands as one of the world’s resource-rich nations. How could this humanitarian crisis possibly be due to poverty? Well, that's a discussion for another blog.

Modern-Day Child Slavery: A Harsh Reality

The exploitation of children in Congolese cobalt mines constitutes a form of modern-day slavery. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), child labor is defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, potential, and dignity and is harmful to their physical and mental development. The conditions in cobalt mines clearly meet these criteria, as children are subjected to hazardous work environments, denied access to education, and robbed of their basic rights.

Despite international conventions and efforts to combat child labor, the problem persists and continues to be fueled by the insatiable demand for cobalt in the global market. The tech industry, in particular, plays a significant role in perpetuating this system of exploitation. Cobalt is a crucial component in the production of lithium-ion batteries used in smartphones, laptops, electric vehicles, and other electronic devices. As the demand for these products continues to soar, so does the demand for cobalt, driving mining companies to exploit cheap labor, including child labor, to meet production targets and maximize profits.

The Tech Industry's Complicity and Responsibility

The tech industry cannot wash its hands of responsibility for the exploitation of children in Congolese cobalt mines. While companies may claim ignorance of the source of the cobalt used in their products, the evidence suggests otherwise. Numerous investigations and reports have exposed the supply chain links between cobalt mines in the DRC and major tech companies, revealing a direct connection between child labor and the products we use every day.

Investigations and reports have shed light on the direct links between major tech companies and cobalt mines in the DRC, where child labor is rampant. For example, a comprehensive investigation by The Guardian reveals that cobalt mined by children as young as seven years old is being used in products manufactured by tech giants such as Apple, Samsung, and Sony. Similarly, a report by Amnesty International detailed how companies like Microsoft, Tesla, and Dell failed to conduct adequate due diligence to ensure that their cobalt supply chains were free from child labor and other human rights abuses. These findings underscore the undeniable reality that the tech industry has been complicit in the enslavement of children for the sake of profit. Therefore, these companies must be held accountable for their role in perpetuating this egregious violation of human rights, and they must take concrete actions to eradicate child labor from their supply chains.

On the other hand, while some have taken steps to improve transparency and traceability, much more needs to be done to ensure ethical sourcing practices and uphold human rights standards. Companies must prioritize the well-being of workers, including children, over profits and take concrete actions to eradicate child labor from their supply chains.

How Can We Help?

As consumers, we have the power to demand accountability from the tech industry and support ethical sourcing practices. By choosing to buy products from companies that prioritize human rights and sustainability, we can send a powerful message that exploitation and child labor are unacceptable.

Another powerful way individuals can show solidarity with the children being exploited in Congolese cobalt mines is by extending the lifespan of their electronic devices. Instead of succumbing to the materialistic pressure to upgrade to the latest smartphone model every year, consumers can make a conscious choice to use their devices for as long as possible. By doing so, they reduce the demand for new products, thereby lessening the need for additional cobalt mining and, consequently, reducing the likelihood of child labor exploitation. This approach not only promotes sustainability but also sends a clear message to the tech industry that ethical sourcing and responsible consumption are priorities that cannot be ignored.

Additionally, supporting initiatives and organizations working to address child labor and promote education and economic development in mining communities can make a difference in the lives of affected children and their families.


The plight of children in Congolese cobalt mines is a stark reminder of the human cost of our modern technology. Behind the sleek screens and cutting-edge gadgets lies a hidden world of exploitation and suffering. It is incumbent upon all of us, as consumers, activists, and global citizens, to confront this reality and demand change. Only through collective action and solidarity can we put an end to the scourge of child labor and create a world where every child has the opportunity to live a life free from exploitation and injustice.

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International Labour Organization. (2019). Child Labour.
Siddiqui, B., & Arjona, A. (2020). The cobalt pipeline: Tracing the path from deadly hand-dug mines in Congo to consumers’ phones and laptops.

The Washington Post.

Amnesty International. (2016). This is what we die for: Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo power the global trade in cobalt.

War Child UK. (n.d.). Children in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Guardian. (2016). Cobalt mining for lithium ion batteries has a high human cost. The Guardian.

Amnesty International. (2017). Time to recharge: Corporate action and inaction to tackle abuses in the cobalt supply chain. Amnesty International.


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