Discuss the distribution, production and various applications of Cobalt as a natural resource. Should Cobalt be dealt as a conflict mineral? Examine in the light of recent controversies.

In Earth’s crust, cobalt is found as chemically bound only. It is produced as free element by reductive smelting.  Most of the Cobalt of the world is produced in Africa, particularly in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and Zambia. DRC is world’s top cobalt producer. Cobalt was traditionally used in coloured jewellery, utensils and sculptures.

Currently, Cobalt is used in preparation of magnetic, wear-resistant and high strength alloys. Its compounds are generally used in production of coloured glass, electronics, ceramics, ink, paints and varnishes. Its radioactive isotope Cobalt-60 is used as a radioactive tracer and in production of high energy gamma rays, used in radiotherapy. Cobalt is also very useful in biology. It is the active centre of several coenzymes called cobalamins such as Vitamin B12.

Most important industrial use of Cobalt is in mobile phone and laptop batteries accounting for a quarter of world’s total cobalt consumption. Cobalt is also needed in the production of magnets, speakers, headphones and media coatings for hard disc drives.

If we look at distribution of cobalt in DRC itself, we find that most of the mining activities of Cobalt take place in Southern province of Katanga in DRC. Katanga has been a long established copper and cobalt mining region geologically extending to Zambia. This region has been involved in commercial metals mining since the 1930s’ and is quite distinct from the conflict ridden provinces of Eastern Congo.

Further, the cobalt mining in Katanga is not alleged for financing weapons and violence. However, Amnesty Report argues that even if Cobalt is produced in the conflict-free regions, its production and trade is not fair. It is believed that a majority of cobalt production is done by artisanal mining {mining by hands} in the tunnel mines 30 meter underground. So, the firms must note procure that Cobalt for the sake of human rights.

There is no doubt that the points raised by Amnesty are valid and there should be transparency in dealings. However, it should also be appreciated that cobalt is a critical raw material and a technology-enabling metal essential to sustainable global development. While there should be greater traceability of minerals sourced from conflict regions, cobalt is not a conflict mineral and should be labelled as such.


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