«The children of the Congo die so that ours inherit a green planet»

Every cell phone, laptop, rechargeable vape or electric vehicle carries cobalt. The problem is that we don't think that “a few Congolese children can be buried alive” when extracting it. Kara's book is not easy to digest. But, as he says, “all democratic changes have taken place after learning a hidden truth.” In “Red Cobalt” (Captain Swing), he describes his experience in the Congo, where the largest reserves of a mineral are located that “ensures our future, but kills and mortgages that of others.”

Of all the cobalt in the world, how much is extracted from the Congo?

Three quarters of the world's cobalt supply. And, to do this, hundreds of thousands of people, including children, dig in the earth with their hands to extract it for two or three euros a day. Therefore, if you have a mobile phone, a laptop or an electric car in your hands, it is very possible that the mineral in its battery has been extracted from a mine in the Congo.

Under what conditions is it extracted?

They don't wear helmets, lights, safety spikes, or harnesses. There are about 15,000 hand-dug mines in the Congo. People spend 12 to 24 hours in them. Furthermore, cobalt is very toxic to touch and breathe, but women and children extract this metal to satisfy a feverish demand. They contract lung and skin diseases, cancer, birth defects… Injuries, mutilations… Death.

What has been the most heartbreaking part of your research?

When you have three nightmares and you wake up it is impossible to remember which one was the worst. That said, the most horrible thing has been sitting with fathers and mothers who lost their children aged 10-13 because a tunnel collapsed and they were buried alive. For the rest of their lives they will be cursed with remembering the suffering and terror that their children went through in the last moments of their lives.

Are there any mines there that do not depend on human slavery or child labor?

No, as far as I know. And I have visited almost all the industrial mines in the country.

Is it intended to inconvenience consumers in the global North?

No. I intend to warn you that you are being an involuntary participant in a human tragedy. We cannot function without phones. Before this book, we simply accepted the stories that the companies that sell us our cell phones told us: that they ensure human rights, that the mining chain is established and sustainable. But not anymore. And, now that the Congo has spoken and the truth is known, it is the turn of these companies to take responsibility for the enormous violence they have caused to the people living in the heart of Africa and their environment. My intention is to ensure the dignity of the people who dig our cobalt.

There are companies like Fairphone that say their minerals do not come from child labor. It's possible?

They can't know it. There is no way for any company to break down what cobalt it uses comes from a child's hands or an excavator. Almost everything (if not everything) that is extracted ends up in the Chinese refineries that supply the US and Europe. China controls 70% of cobalt mining operations in Congo; supplies 80% of the world's refined cobalt and produces more than half of rechargeable batteries. When China says, “This cobalt does not come from the hands of a child at all,” our companies choose to “believe.”

Are Samsung, Apple or Google lying when they say their cobalt is responsibly sourced?

Yes, yes and yes. Clean cobalt does not exist. The guarantees that all these companies make on their websites are lies. The truth is on the ground, not in their headquarters. Therefore, these two narratives must be reconciled in honor of the truth. To do this, we need independent organizations that audit the mines and certify that the mineral is extracted without violating human rights and the environment. Or would you ask a thief if he has returned the money he stole? Likewise, we cannot accept the word of companies that have demonstrated for years that they couldn't care less about the lives of the people of the Congo. We need organizations that are not paid by them, because that is the card they play. They say “we have been audited,” but they don't say that they have been paid to give the answer we want to hear.

Is there hypocrisy in Brussels?

The European Union has imposed an immoral economy on Congo to satisfy a voracious appetite for technological gadgets and money. But on top of that is the hypocrisy of pursuing a “just” energy transition. They are proclaiming that we are going to save our environment by destroying theirs. They are promising a greener planet for our children by killing their own. That's the truth of the Global North: they don't care about the people of the Congo; They never cared about them. They are still “only Africans”. We want your cheap labor and resources; If they die and we destroy that part of the world it will be fine… as long as we accomplish our goal.