Once in a while, you’ll read a book that features investigative journalism so bold, risky, and cutting-edge that it will leave you shaking your head in disbelief. As so, this book fits the bill.
The smartphone or laptop you are using to read this review uses cobalt. Cobalt is a critical component of the cathode material in lithium batteries, responsible for storing and releasing energy during charge and discharge cycles of your smartphone, laptop, or electric car.
An estimated 60% of the world’s cobalt is sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives” by Siddharth Kara is a deeply disturbing and eye-opening book that exposes the human cost of the global technology industry’s dependence on cobalt.
Kara draws on extensive research and firsthand interviews with miners, traders, and others involved in the cobalt supply chain to paint a stark picture of the exploitation and abuse that is rampant in the mines of the DRC.
The book traces the path of cobalt from the mines to the technology companies that use it, and highlights the complicity of governments, corporations, and consumers in perpetuating this cycle of exploitation.
One of the most interesting parts of the book is Kara’s discussion of the various actors involved in the cobalt supply chain, including miners, traders, middlemen, and corporations. Kara provides an analysis of the economic incentives that drive each of these actors, and how their actions contribute to the perpetuation of exploitation and abuse in the cobalt industry.
Kara provides a detailed account of the exploitation and abuse that takes place in the cobalt mines of there. He describes the hazardous and often deadly working conditions in these mines, as well as the prevalence of child labor, forced labor, and other forms of human rights abuses. He also highlights the role of armed groups and corrupt officials in perpetuating this exploitation.
Here is what he says:
“The miners I interviewed at Kawama were adamant that they used no protective gear, and it was clear from their emaciated bodies and respiratory distress that they were being poisoned by the dust they were breathing. Many were also suffering from skin rashes, burns, and other injuries related to their work.”
One of the most disturbing aspects is the use of child labor in mines; as the father of two young daughters, the thought of them toiling away in the mines is terrifying.
Here is an extract from the book:
“The worst forms of child labor, such as those that involve hazardous work, forced labor, or trafficking, are considered to be modern forms of slavery. In the cobalt mines of the DRC, children as young as six years old are often subjected to these conditions, and they work for long hours in dangerous underground tunnels without protective gear.”
Kara also explores the technological advances that are being developed as alternatives to cobalt, such as solid-state batteries and sodium-ion batteries. This section of the book offers a glimpse of hope that there may be a way to break the cycle of exploitation and abuse that currently characterises the cobalt supply chain.
The book is well-written and thoroughly researched, with a wealth of detail that is both enlightening and heartbreaking. Kara’s prose is clear and engaging, and he does an excellent job of making the complex issue of cobalt mining accessible to a general audience.
Cobalt Red is difficult but important book. It sheds light on a critical topic that has been largely ignored by the mainstream media and the public and pushes readers to consider their own role in the exploitation of disadvantaged people.
This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about human rights, social justice, and the impact of technology on our world.
I think this is an important and influential book on a critical global issue.
While the subject matter can be challenging and disturbing, I found the book to be an engaging and compelling read that sheds light on a critical issue and challenged me to consider how my fondness with gadgets contributes to human right abuse in other countries.
It is a must-read for anyone who cares about the ethical and sustainable production of the technologies that have become integral to our daily lives.
I’m conflicted about the trend of using blood as a dramatic hook in book titles like “Blood diamonds,” “Cold blood,” and “How the Blood of the Congo Powers our Life.”
I’d like to see more people from Katanga, Goma, and the surrounding areas start publishing articles on their personal experiences with these problems so that more attention may be brought to their cause.
- “When we buy a smartphone, or a laptop, or an electric car, we are investing in a system of abuse and exploitation. We are helping to perpetuate a cycle of poverty, corruption, and violence that stretches from the mines of the Congo to the factories of Asia to the showroom floors of America and Europe.”
- “The cobalt mining industry is a key driver of the Congolese economy, but its benefits are not evenly distributed. Instead, the profits from cobalt mining tend to flow to a small group of elites, while the people who do the actual mining often receive only meager wages and few benefits.”
- “The cobalt supply chain is not simply a network of mines, refineries, and factories, but a complex and dynamic system of power and influence that spans continents and touches the lives of millions of people.”
- “The exploitation and abuse in the cobalt supply chain are not the result of a few bad actors or a few bad companies, but the product of a deeply flawed economic and political system that prioritizes profit over human rights and environmental concerns.”
- “The cobalt industry is a vivid reminder that the prosperity of the global North is built on the poverty of the global South.”
- “The technological innovations that have transformed our lives are also the source of some of the most pressing human rights and environmental challenges of our time.”
- “We must recognize that the cobalt industry is not a ‘problem’ that can be solved with a single solution or a single approach, but a complex and multifaceted challenge that requires a sustained and collaborative effort from all stakeholders.”
- “The cobalt supply chain is a microcosm of the global economy, in which the wealthiest and most powerful countries and corporations benefit from the exploitation of the poorest and most vulnerable.”
- “The cobalt industry is a perfect storm of human rights abuses, environmental destruction, and corruption, fueled by our insatiable demand for ever more sophisticated technology.”
- “The real challenge is not to find an alternative to cobalt, but to build a global economy that values human life, dignity, and well-being above profit and power.”
- “We cannot afford to look away from the human cost of our technology. We must confront the uncomfortable truth that our smartphones and laptops and electric cars are built on the backs of the poor and the oppressed.”
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