What a truly awful read over in the Daily Mail on child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo used to mine cobalt, a key ingredient in batteries for electric cars:

The Daily Mail piece is based on a report from Sky News in February on cobalt use in smartphone batteries, but now that European nations are planning on banning gasoline cars, it’s even more important to show that there are consequences to the electric car future:

More from the Daily Mail:

And it’s feared that thousands more children could be about to be dragged into this hellish daily existence – after the historic pledge made by Britain to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2040 and switch to electric vehicles.

It heralds a future of clean energy, free from pollution but – though there can be no doubting the good intentions behind Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s announcement last month – such ideals mean nothing for the children condemned to a life of hellish misery in the race to achieve his target.

Dorsen, just eight, is one of 40,000 children working daily in the mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The terrible price they will pay for our clean air is ruined health and a likely early death.
Almost every big motor manufacturer striving to produce millions of electric vehicles buys its cobalt from the impoverished central African state. It is the world’s biggest producer, with 60 per cent of the planet’s reserves.

The cobalt is mined by unregulated labour and transported to Asia where battery manufacturers use it to make their products lighter, longer-lasting and rechargeable.
The planned switch to clean energy vehicles has led to an extraordinary surge in demand. While a smartphone battery uses no more than 10 grams of refined cobalt, an electric car needs 15kg (33lb).

So, where does this leave a firm like Tesla?

As of now, Elon Musk relies on cobalt sourced exclusively from North America, but the math “does not seem to add up” going forward. From TechCrunch:

So where does that leave us with Tesla? Elon Musk ambitiously aims at producing 500,000 electric vehicles a year by 2018, and Tesla has repeatedly stated that the cobalt will be sourced exclusively in North America. Whether this is a realistic assumption is a different story.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) states that cobalt production in 2015 was 124,000 metric tons. Canada and the U.S. together produce roughly 4 percent of the world’s supply, nowhere near Tesla’s needs for just one of its models. Indeed, estimations from InvestorIntel show that half a million units of Tesla’s Model 3 would be equivalent to 7,800 tons of new cobalt demand, or roughly 6 percent of the annual cobalt production worldwide. The math does not seem to add up. Tesla reportedly has difficulties securing off-take agreements from traditional cathode material suppliers and is reaching down to junior miners.

TechCrunch goes on to list a number of ways that Tesla can get around the cobal issue, but the article’s conclusion leaves no doubt that it’s still an open question on what the company will actually do:

That’s a lot of “ifs,” I grant you that. Tesla is entering an age of supply chain transparency, as Simon Moores from Benchmark Intelligence states, and it wouldn’t hurt to see more communication from Tesla on that front. However, there are many factors that could be part of a complex cobalt equation. I wouldn’t go as far as surrender already and turn into a structural Tesla bear.

And even if Tesla avoids child labor for its batteries, what about every other electric car?

We’ll stick with oil, thank you very much:

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