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Apple believed to be trying to deal with cobalt miners

22 February 2018, 12:45 | Hattie Nash

Apple CEO Tim Cook is moving to secure long-term supplies of raw materials for batteries

Tim Cook

Apple is rumoured to be buying long-term supplies of cobalt directly from miners for the first time, according to Bloomberg, in a bid to secure long-term supplies - possibly for an electric vehicle project.

If there is a shortage, Apple will have nothing to fear because it would have already secured a hefty supply of the element in the first place.

Apple said last March it would stop buying cobalt mined by hand in the Congo following reports of child labor and risky work conditions. Any phone company that needs lithium-ion batteries is ultimately sourcing much of its cobalt from the DRC.

Cobalt is an essential ingredient in lithium-ion batteries for smartphones. Other companies like BMW, Volkswagen, and Samsung are also aiming to secure multi-year contracts for supplies of the raw material to produce electric vehicles.

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Also, it is unclear if the African country's cobalt supply will last long enough to match California's and other US states' ambitions to replace diesel-powered vehicles with electric ones. Over the past eighteen months, the price of cobalt has tripled to more than $80,000 a metric ton.

Apple may end up deciding not to go ahead with a deal, the report said, citing another source. Glencore, the mining multinational that operates in about 50 countries, has named Apple as one of the main customers it was talking to about cobalt, according to Bloomberg. "There's absolutely no excuse for anyone under legal working age to be in our supply chain", the company said in its most recent Supplier Responsibility Progress Report.

The London Metal Exchange (LME), the world's biggest market for industrial metals, has also stepped up efforts to make sure that cobalt mined by child labour doesn't trade on the exchange, following several reports indicating that minors are being exploited to extract the coveted mineral. Much of that bumper 44% dividend payout is due to the spike in cobalt, which saw a 108% increase on the average price, from $12 a pound to around $25 a pound past year alone. About 60 percent of the world's cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and about 20 percent of it is mined by hand by children, Amnesty International reported in 2016.



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