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Cobalt Crimes

Cobalt Crimes

If you’re reading Signal today on your phone, you may be financing child labor in one of the poorest countries in Africa without knowing it. A report this week from CBS News revealed that thousands of children are being used to mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Our Kevin Allison explains that cobalt is an essential component in the lithium-ion batteries that power many of our gadgets, and child labor reportedly persists in the DRC despite a multi-year push by big tech companies, under pressure from activist groups, to clean up their supply chains.

The DRC, site of a war (1997–2003) that killed more than 5 million people, is home to two-thirds of the world’s cobalt. Mining it is toxic work, and the country’s weak central government can’t police working conditions in the informal mines that dot the country’s mineral belt, leaving industry effectively in charge.

Even if it were possible to track every ounce of cobalt that ends up in your Chinese-made iPhone battery and hold mining companies to account, cutting off unscrupulous suppliers could leave both kids and adults in the DRC economically worse off. In many villages, mining is the only way to put food on the table.

President Joseph Kabila, who has defiantly remained in power 15 months beyond the end of his elected term and whose government exerts little control over large swaths of DRC territory, says he’ll sign a new mining code into law that the country’s mining companies aggressively oppose. Will mining companies police themselves? We’re skeptical. Elections are due in December. We’re skeptical about that too.

The political point: Since 9/11, US policymakers have warned of lawless countries where terrorist groups can live, train, and organize far from watchful eyes. But in a political vacuum like the DRC — a country with dazzling natural wealth and terrible violence over many centuries as outsiders and insiders compete to loot the country’s mineral and metal resources — there are other forms of evil that deserve our attention.

And as our Alex Kliment points out, now you know about it because you read it on your phone.

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Though celebrations will surely be more subdued this year, many Germans will still gather (virtually) on October 3 to celebrate thirty years since reunification.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall — and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union — Germany reunited in a process whereby the much wealthier West absorbed the East, with the aim of expanding individual freedoms and economic equality to all Germans.

But thirty years later, this project has — to a large extent — been difficult to pull off. The economic and quality of life gap is shrinking, but lingering inequality continues to impact both German society and politics.

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GZERO Media, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group, today hosted its second virtual town hall on the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine and the challenges of its distribution.

The panel was moderated by New York Times science and health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli and featured Gates Foundation's Deputy Director of Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Lynda Stuart; Eurasia Group's Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director of Energy, Climate & Resources; Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman; and Gayle E. Smith, the president & CEO of ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Watch the full video above.

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But while he has correctly identified some big challenges — adapting NATO to the 21st century, managing a more assertive China, or ending America's endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — his impulsive style, along with his restrictions on trade and immigration, have alienated many world leaders. Global polls show that favorable views of the US have plummeted to all-time lows in many countries, particularly among traditional American allies in Europe.

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This content is brought to you by our 2020 UN General Assembly partner, Microsoft.

Watch UN Innovation Room conversations weekly on Thursdays at 9 am EDT: https://www.gzeromedia.com/unga/livestream/

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