The Dark Secret Powering your Smartphone


World Economic Forum

Type of Resource

Online article

Year of Release



Basic Resources



Sub Categories

Child Labour, Forced Labour

Issues Addressed

Human Rights, Labour


To highlight the problematic behind conflict minerals.


From phones and tablets to computers and electric cars, technological innovations that are now commonplace in many people’s lives depend on cobalt. These and other products run on lithium-ion batteries, of which cobalt is a core component. As our appetite for the latest gadget and new forms of green technology, such as renewable energy storage — critical enablers of the Fourth Industrial Revolution — continues to grow, so does the demand for cobalt. The demand for rechargeable batteries alone is expected to more than double by 2024, while the DRC is on course to providing two-thirds of the world’s cobalt within the next two years.

While this sounds good for business, often the benefits do not trickle down to the people who labour daily to mine these precious resources. Growth doesn’t come without challenges — and one of those challenges is child labour in mining.

DRC is rich in natural resources, and it is estimated that more than 10 million of its citizens rely on income from artisanal and small-scale mining across the country. But poverty and income insecurity are also common. Nearly 70% of the population lives below the poverty line of $1 a day. This has inescapable consequences for vulnerable populations, particularly children.

While children under 18 cannot legally work in DRC’s mines, the law is not widely observed for various economic and social reasons. As a result, many children start working in mines at a very young age. What begins as a side activity often grows in significance as the years pass. Over time, families with already limited income and economic opportunities come to depend on the supplemental earnings of their children to cover the cost of household expenses, school fees and other items.

For the children in DRC’s mines, mining isn’t a choice. As one of the worst forms of child labour, it robs them of their childhood, risking their physical and mental development and making them more vulnerable to exploitation.