Apple believed to be trying to deal with cobalt miners

Apple may be looking to ensure it has adequate supplies of an essential ingredient of its iPhone batteries.                  James Martin  CNET

Cobalt is a critical ingredient in the design and manufacture of lithium-ion batteries, and the rapid growth in the number of electric cars is expected to squeeze supply. Apple has been trying to end child labor in mines that produce cobalt for the company and said it is working with non-government entities (NGOs) in the country to stop it. Bloomberg notes that about a quarter of global cobalt production is used in smartphones and that Apple is keen to shore up its cobalt supplies to have enough for sufficient production of iPhone and iPad batteries.

Apple is seeking contracts to secure several thousand metric tonnes of cobalt a year for five years or longer, according to one of the people, declining to be named as the discussions are confidential. Carmakers are also racing to lock up cobalt contracts as they prepare to make more electric vehicles. Bloomberg reports the company has been discussing the issue with miners for over a year, and the company has not yet decided whether it will proceed with a deal.

Amnesty International published a report in January 2016 about cobalt mines, saying that tech companies and vehicle manufacturers aren't doing enough to prevent child labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo - the country is responsible for 50 percent of global cobalt production.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

Talking to reporters in London last December, Glasenberg said the company had held talks with Apple, Tesla (TSLA.O) and Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) as part of ongoing discussions with industrial clients.

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Cobalt prices have risen to $80K per tonne from just above $20K per tonne two years ago. Cobalt is also mined in China, Russia, Canada and Australia, but we guess that would be more pricey.

Cobalt is a byproduct of copper and nickel mining, used until recently to harden steel and before its ability to efficiently conduct electricity was discovered.

According to report by Amnesty International in 2016, close 60 percent of the world's cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo mined by approximately 20 percent under-aged children with hand.

Such companies are also facing growing public pressure to use cobalt that has not been procured using supply chains that involve human rights violations, something Apple has received scrutiny for in the past.

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