Harvard professor Joe Rogan reports that all technical devices containing lithium batteries come from slave mines

Harvard professor and author stunned podcast host Joe Rogan by telling him that every lithium-battery-powered tech device the Western world relies on today is powered by slavery in the cobalt mines of the Congo.

Siddharth Kara, author of Cobalt Red: How The Blood of the Congo Powers the Lives, maintains that there is no such thing as “clean cobalt”—the term given to describe ethically extracted cobalt.

When he appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast earlier this week, he told the Spotify host that, in fact, almost every device in use today that relies on a lithium battery is powered by slavery.

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Siddharth Kara, author of Cobalt Red: How The Blood of the Congo Powers the Lives, insists that there is no such thing as ‘clean cobalt’ – the term given to describe ethically mined cobalt.

Surprised, Joe Rogan asked if there was such a thing

Surprised, Joe Rogan asked if there was such a thing as “clean cobalt.” Kara told him there was none, and said the concept was “all marketing.”

To support his argument, he shares videos he took from mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which show hundreds if not thousands of miners digging by hand.

Cobalt is found in every rechargeable lithium battery made in the world today.

“Every smartphone, every tablet, every laptop and, crucially, every electric car,” he said, relies on it.

A general view of artisanal miners working at the Shabara artisanal mine near Kolwezi on October 12, 2022. Kara said he had never seen a mine where child labor and slavery did not exist

A general view of artisanal miners working at the Shabara artisanal mine near Kolwezi on October 12, 2022. Kara said he had never seen a mine where child labor and slavery did not exist

Della and Monga, an artisanal miner, carry cobalt stone at the Shabara artisanal mine near Kolwezi on October 12, 2022.

Della and Monga, an artisanal miner, carry cobalt stone at the Shabara artisanal mine near Kolwezi on October 12, 2022.

We cannot function on a daily basis without cobalt, and three-quarters of the supply comes from the Congo. And they are mined in appalling, heart-wrenching and dangerous conditions.

“On the whole, the world doesn’t know what’s going on… I don’t think people realize how terrible it is,” he said.

“It’s all marketing,” Kara responded by challenging Rogan to the “clean cobalt” concept.

He insists he has “never seen” a cobalt mine where child labor and slavery do not exist.

The mines are mostly controlled by the Chinese, Kara says.

In an opinion piece for CNN last year, he described visiting a mine where a child told him how he was looking for heterogeneous material, the primary source of cobalt, then selling it to “home buyers” — which Kara described as being run by “Chinese agents.”

These agents sell cobalt to foreign mining companies.

“Just like that, cobalt collected by a child in the Congo enters the formal supply chain,” he wrote.

US companies like Tesla and Apple have vowed in the past to crack down on human rights abuses and slavery in the cobalt supply chain.

Elon Musk has pledged to switch to a cobalt-free battery to power his electronic car, and Apple has been credited by human rights observers as leading the industry’s anti-slavery charge.

Lithium-ion battery, the type found in most smartphones, tablets, and electric vehicles

Lithium-ion battery, the type found in most smartphones, tablets, and electric vehicles

The Biden administration also recently concluded an agreement with Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to rinse supply chain abuses.

An ongoing problem, according to Kara, is the Chinese government’s control of the market.

Before anyone knew what was going on, [the] Chinese government [and] Chinese mining companies have taken control of almost all the large mines and displaced the local population.

Now, African countries are under “coercion” from China to meet the demand.

“They’re digging in absolutely inhumane, gut-wrenching conditions for $1 a day, feeding cobalt into the supply chain into all phones, all tablets, and especially electric cars,” he said.

He said US companies such as Telsa still bear some of the blame.

“This is the bottom of the supply chain for your iPhone, your Tesla, your Samsung.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has made matters worse, Kara says, due to the closure of the most responsible foreign mines.

According to Kara, he put artisanal miners—those who dig by hand—into overdrive, without any regulation.

He has offered to arrange trips to the Congo for executives of companies that use lithium batteries to show them the harms firsthand.

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