Goblin-free cobalt an ethical target
There is sufficient doubt about the ethical origins of cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to tag it as a conflict mineral, along with the 3TG (Tin, Tantalum, Tungsten and Gold).
In a recent report titled Exposed: Child labour behind smart phone and electric car batteries Amnesty international has criticised leading electronics brands such as Apple, Sony and Samsung for not performing the necessary diligence to prevent cobalt mined by children from getting into lithium-ion batteries used in their products. In fairness to Apple, Sony and Samsung, smartphones are just on of the many electronic devises that use cobalt.
But fundamentally it is unsettlingly plausible that child labourers contributed components of our fancy gadgets, even our clean-tech devises.
In 2010, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”) was passed to compel the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) to issue rules specifically relating to the use of “Conflict Minerals” used as a base for manufacturing. Conflict Minerals are currently defined by US Law as tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold (also known as “3TG”) and related derivatives. The SEC rules require any SEC registrant whose commercial products contain any 3TG (“3TG Product”) to determine whether the 3TG in the 3TG Product originated from the DRC or adjoining countries (collectively, the “DRC Region”). “3TG Conflict Free” means that the supply chain is transparent and the 3TG in 3TG Products does not directly or indirectly benefit armed groups responsible for serious human rights abuses in the DRC Region.
Cobalt sources from the DRC warrant scrutiny to ascertain compliance to Dodd-Frank.
Over half of the world’s supply of cobalt is mined in the DRC, where it is estimated that one fifth comes from small scale mining operations that “employ” children as young as 7 years who work the ore with the most basic of tools under poor or inexistent health and safety standards.
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It is not the first time in the history of cobalt that the silvery metal is involved in controversy. 16th-century miners sometimes mined what looked to be rich veins of copper or silver, which turned out to be worthless gangue after smelting. These ores caused a burning sensation to those who handled them. Miners called these ores cobalt in reminiscence to mystical underground creatures, the “kobolds” or goblins that terrified the minors for sport.
Cobalt dust may cause an asthma-like disease with symptoms ranging from cough, shortness of breath and dyspnea to decreased pulmonary function, nodular fibrosis, permanent disability, and death. Exposure to cobalt may cause weight loss, dermatitis, and respiratory hypersensitivity. LD50 (oral, rat)- 6171 mg/kg. (LD50 = Lethal dose 50 = Single dose of a substance that causes the death of 50% of an animal population from exposure to the substance by any route other than inhalation. LD50 is usually expressed as milligrams or grams of material per kilogram of animal weight (mg/kg or g/kg).) For comparison arsenic is infinitely more toxic with a LD 50 of 15 mg/kg. Tin, tantalum and tungsten show intermediate toxicity between cobalt and arsenic. Gold is not toxic but has intrinsic currency value that makes is a perfect conflict metal.
None of us want to see child labor in support the electronics and clean tech sector. We would like to see ethical miners such as Formation Metals Inc. (TSX: FCO | OTCQB: FMETF), Green Swan Capital Corp. (TSXV: GSW) and Cruz Capital Corp. (TSXV: CUZ) take the goblins out of cobalt mining.
Dr. Luc C. Duchesne is a Speaker and Author with a PhD in Biochemistry. With three decades of scientific and business experience, he has published ... <Read more about Dr. Luc Duchesne>