• Cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo: the cost of innovative technology and historical lessons in global economics for a more ethical future

      Seyler, Allison (2021-05)
      This paper focuses on the geologic and political history of the DRC and the effectiveness of existing legislation, including the Dodd Frank Act, and propositions for the Katanga mining sector, more specifically the mining of cobalt. Cobalt mining has also come under scrutiny with human rights groups, as Amnesty International released a report in 2016 finding that child labor and unsafe conditions were present in cobalt mines in the Katanga region. Cobalt is projected to continue to increase in value as the demand for EV and lithium-ion batteries increases (although recycling techniques and different types of lithium-ion batteries are being explored by manufacturers as an alternative to mining cobalt). This paper analyzes the legacy of colonialism in Katanga through a comparison with Chile, and the parallels between their histories and the corruption of their state mining companies. Through this lens, it can be seen that a different strategy can be employed in this region than with coltan in North Kivu, as the primary strategy of the Dodd Frank Act was to reduce violence by decreasing the size of the black market. Rather, business strategies can be employed that can be used to benefit the people of the Congo, as has been observed with CODELCO, the state mining company of Chile. Despite years of bloodshed from ethnic violence and political instability, the DRC shows signs of hope, as the first peaceful transition of power since their independence in 1960 occurred in 2019, and the chairman of Gécamines, the largest state mining company, announced that it would be changing and improving its business model and infrastructure beginning in 2019. The DRC has been called cursed for its geology, but rather it is cursed by colonial politics, greed, ethnic violence, and economic disadvantage. The geology of the region, and the necessity of minerals in a clean energy transition will not change. Perhaps this region’s natural resources can be used to promote development and peace, with the wellbeing of the Congolese people as a central focus.