Shocking. In the West, we’re somewhat aware of the horrible conditions African diamond miners face. We’ve at least heard of this, including the trivia fact of the deepest mine in the world being a diamond mine somewhere on the continent there. And despite diamonds’ wide spread use (well beyond the bling so many associate with them, by some stats that is actually one of the more *rare* uses for them, apparently). many don’t really think of this too much.
But our cellphones? Our tablets? Our state of the art electric vehicles? Our “commitment to zero carbon by [insert year]” climate activism? Our ESG corporate policies?
All of these are impacted by the travails Kara uncovers in this biting expose of the Congolese Cobalt mining operations and specifically just how horrid and unsafe the conditions therein are, including the rampant and untracked use of child labor. Here, Kara takes us on an undercover journey from one of the of the region to the other, while protecting his sources as much as possible. It is an alarming look, one that the heads and other decision makers in many of the world’s largest corporations and manufacturers need to read and examine the issues it raises in further detail based on this reporting. Even if Elon Musk (Tesla), Akio Toyoda (Toyota), Mary Barra (GM), and Oliver Blume (Volkswagen) won’t look into this, perhaps global banking, as part of its own ESG and Zero Carbon initiatives, could look into it from their end and begin to influence the car manufacturers from that side.
In a book full of unimaginable pain and sorrow, a few tales stick out. One of them in particular is that of a man who was injured in the mine, and thus his teenage son was forced to work in the mine for the family’s subsistence. Just a week before this father could go back to work, word came from the mine of a collapse. His son died in that collapse and the body remains buried within the mine. Prepare yourself, reader. As illuminating as this text is, stories at least that bad pepper this text like sand on a beach.
The only reason for the single star deduction? Possibly due to the text being primarily Kara’s own investigations, the bibliography here is quite scant indeed, clocking in at barely 8% of the overall text when 20-30% is much more common in my experience with other nonfiction advance reader copies.
Overall this is absolutely a book that needs to be read as widely as possible, and one that needs as much attention brought to its issues as possible. Very much recommended.
This review of Cobalt Red by Siddarth Kara was originally written on December 6, 2022.