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It moves from small-scale Congolese mines to a single Chinese company — Congo Dong Fang International Mining, part of one of the world’s biggest cobalt producers, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt — that for years has supplied some of the world’s largest battery makers.The gritty, R-rated drama that opens Friday also stars Jim Carrey, Jason Momoa and Diego Luna.The sun was rising over one of the richest mineral deposits on Earth, in one of the poorest countries, as Sidiki Mayamba got ready for work. And the red-dirt savanna stretching outside his door contains such an astonishing wealth of cobalt and other minerals that a geologist once described it as a “scandale geologique.” This remote landscape in southern Africa lies at the heart of the world’s mad scramble for cheap cobalt, a mineral essential to the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones, laptops and electric vehicles made by companies such as Apple, Samsung and major automakers. Pyers also said Apple is committed to working with Huayou Cobalt to clean up the supply chain and to addressing the underlying issues, such as extreme poverty, that result in harsh work conditions and child labor.Lithium-ion batteries were supposed to be different from the dirty, toxic technologies of the past. In many ways, the current Silicon Valley gold rush — from mobile devices to driverless cars — is built on the power of lithium-ion batteries. “It is true, there are children in these mines,” provincial governor Richard Muyej, the highest-ranking government official in Kolwezi, said in an interview.
Lighter and packing more energy than conventional lead-acid batteries, these cobalt-rich batteries are seen as “green.” They are essential to plans for one day moving beyond smog-belching gasoline engines. He also acknowledged problems with mining-related deaths and pollution.
Already these batteries have defined the world’s tech devices. But, he said, his government is too poor to tackle these issues alone. “These companies have an obligation to create wealth in the area where they operate.” Companies are unlikely to abandon Congo, for a simple reason: The world needs what Congo has.
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