Your electric car (and tech) is powered by the cruel exploitation of Black children

Congolese children dig for cobalt in mines. (Credit: Screenshot - Sky News/YouTube)
Congolese children dig for cobalt in mines. (Credit: Screenshot – Sky News/YouTube)

The rain pours heavy, soaking his oversized pants and ripped shirt as he staggers up a mound of mud surrounded by wooden contraptions. A man accompanies him not too far, but not close enough to be of any assistance. He’s a mere 6 years old. His vision is obscured by the ceaseless pelts of water dripping down his eyes as he scans the area in search of something. The man following the boy reminds him he is no guardian for the lost child as he whips him across the back for his perceived errors. The child helplessly finds his target and waits for another man with a shovel to dig minerals from a crevice in the ground — metals sought after by unscrupulous Chinese mine owners that will be sold to electric car and cellphone manufacturers.

As heartbreaking as this situation might read (video here) you can multiply it by at least 40,000. Human rights experts say that’s approximately how many Black children in Congo are being exploited in gut-wrenching, deplorable conditions that are so inhumane and toxic it’s literally killing these children. Its comparisons to slavery, a summation by human rights experts, is understandable because it’s true, from my point of view.

It is estimated that the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) produces at least 70% of the world’s supply of cobalt, and 15% to 30% of that is produced in artisanal mines. Cobalt, lithium and other minerals mined in Congo are used to manufacture smartphones, LCD/LED TV’s, digital cameras and more devices. It may be hard to believe but this impoverished country holds an estimated $24 trillion in natural resources — and today, in the 21st century, it’s being exploited like African resources have been centuries before.

On July 14, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) held a hearing called “Child Labor and Human Rights Violations in the Mining Industry of the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

In a news release published after the hearing, Congressman Chris Smith (R-New Jersey) who chaired the commission hearing said, “On the backs of trafficked workers and child laborers, China exploits the vast cobalt resources of the DRC to fuel its economy and global agenda.”

“The Chinese Communist Party’s quest for cobalt for batteries and lithium for solar panels to power the so-called Green Economy motivates human rapacity as an estimated 40,000 children in Congo toil in non-regulated artisanal mines under hazardous conditions,” he said.

The hearing included testimony from Hervé Diakiese Kyungu, a Congolese civil rights attorney who detailed the atrocious abuses Congolese children are subject to and the ongoing exploitation and illegal mining by Chinese companies. (Video here.)

During the hearing, Kyungu shared testimony about how children are being used for labor, including at the Kasulo deposit, which is owned by Chinese company Dongfang Congo Mining. He noted China’s “new way of colonization,” which utilizes harsh tactics to enforce control at the Chinese COMMUS concession: “Two persons identified as Chinese citizen[s]… instructed two Congolese military officers to whip two Congolese who were found on their site,” according to the news release.

“It comes even here to the U.S., so it means that even your industry are using cobalt that come from mines where children are used, exploited like slaves,” Kyungu said.

Perhaps the most sickening fact is that this shameful chapter of Africa’s plight has been occurring for more than a decade.

To the rest of the world that dares to look, it may appear the children are digging for minerals but children in Africa are no different than children anywhere else in the world — they are digging for hope. They can’t be seen because they are trapped in a pit of despair created by Chinese companies (who have a history of racist exploitation of African children) and greedy, immoral Congolose authorities who enable the detrimental behavior for the sake of profits.

This suffering of children for global profits, including to the benefit of Americans, has to end. Every day these children are forced to risk their lives — and futures — is one day too long.

By God, if we will not stand up for defenseless children, what on Earth will we stand up for?