22 February, 2018
According to Bloomberg, the tech giant is in talks to buy long-term supplies of cobalt directly from miners. Reports indicate that now about a quarter of all cobalt mined globally is used in smartphones and the demand for cobalt is expected to boom by 2030.
Cobalt is a key mineral used in lithium-ion batteries, and Bloomberg says that Apple is looking to secure contracts for several thousand metric tons of cobalt each year for five years or longer. One source told Bloomberg that the iPhone maker first started the discussion on the cobalt deals previous year, but that there are chances that talks may not go anywhere right now.
The Bloomberg report said Apple was not immediately available for comment outside regular business hours. They're now embarking on research and development of cobalt-less batteries as a strategy to hedge against rising cobalt prices.
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DRC's near-monopoly position in cobalt mining has been fraught with ethical and economic issues, most notably child labor in the mines.
So far, no major deals have been announced, although BMW's head of procurement told German daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in early February that it was close to securing a 10-year supply deal. Two-thirds of supplies come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there has never been a peaceful transition of power and child labor is still used in parts of the mining industry.
But due to the exponentially growing demand for the metal, prices per metric ton of cobalt have more than increased threefold from between September 2016 and January 2018 to more than $70,000.
Rights group Amnesty International said a year ago about a fifth of Congo's cobalt production is mined by hand by informal miners including children, often in risky conditions. Cobalt is also mined in China, Russia, Canada and Australia, but we guess that would be more pricey.
Tenke's mines contains one of the world's largest known deposits of copper and cobalt.