Blockchain could ensure that child labour is not utilised to mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

If you’re not up to date with mining or mining technology, you might not know that your mobile phone uses cobalt. And you might also be unaware that Congolese children probably mined it.

While the DRC is not the only place where companies mine cobalt, around 65% of the world’s supply comes from the mines there. As a result of demand, this problem is only expected to worsen. Various mining companies dedicated US$36 million to funding exploration for cobalt in 2017. That’s four times the 2016 budget. This is attributed to the increasing demand for rechargeable batteries in phones, computers and electric cars.

Glencore currently controls the cobalt market, generating more than 28,000 tonnes a year.

Tracking conflict cobalt with blockchain

Cobalt mining in the DRC has an unethical history. Congolese children work for twelve hours or longer in the mines. Usually, these children work with no protective equipment in often very hot conditions. As a result, often children die or struggle to find adequate medical treatment if injured. A Sky news investigation found that most companies have little regulation regarding their supply chains. Children as young as four work in the mines to supply cobalt that big companies source.

Part of this lack of accountability comes down to one thing: reliable provenance in supply chains is nearly impossible. Essentially, most of the tracking that businesses do is on paper, or in a centralised database.

Because of this, it is almost impossible to prove that minerals are being sourced ethically and sustainably.

So, will it work?

The diamond industry has already implemented blockchain. Companies are seeking a way to avoid sourcing “blood diamonds”, or conflict diamonds, and counterfeits. Consequently, the attention is turning to other mining companies. Cobalt isn’t the only conflict mineral surrounding by concern about its sourcing.

Other key conflict minerals include 3TG (Tungsten, Tin, Tantalum and Gold). These are all involved in the creation of technology like laptops and smartphones. As a result, there is undeniable pressure on big tech companies to source responsibly and ethically.

Blockchain records information on a tamper-proof ledger, and can ultimately track the supply chain from beginning to end. Because of this, companies who use blockchain can ensure that they are sourcing their cobalt sustainably and ethically. Right now, the main issue is implementing blockchain into every point of the supply chain.

To see for yourself how blockchain can track ethics and sustainability in cobalt mining, click here.