Cassiterite and Cobalt
5 minute essay film
A forensic audit of the Apple Iphone 6 lithium Ion Battery Pac and Orly international nail varnish. The film examines how both these companies cross paths in their sourcing of conflict minerals from Congolese mining industries.
Film still, google earth image capture, Kolwezi mines, Democratic Republic of Congo, 2019.
Washington Post, The Cobalt Pipeline, Todd C. Frankel, 2016
The Guardian, Apple and Google named in US lawsuit over Congolese child cobalt mining deaths, Annie Kelley, 2019
The National, Dubai reins in imports of Congo's 'conflict minerals', James Reinel, 2010
Iphones and nail varnish have more in common than you might know. The cosmetic industry depends on unregulated and outsourced labour; from the mining of minerals in wartorn countries in central Africa, the manufacturing of nail varnish in South East Asia, to the product’s distribution to global markets from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I wanted to dissect this booming industry to understand the human and environmental cost behind the glossy exterior of nail varnish.
My research started around a year ago when I prised open an Apple iPhone 6 Lithium-Ion Battery. I found that the Apple battery contained a number of minerals that can also be found in many nail varnish products. These minerals included tin oxide and cassiterite. The iPhone model 6S, released in 2016, contains a Lithium Ion rechargeable battery. In 2017, the Washington Post released an investigation revealing the dirty sourcing of cobalt (mineral) used in Lithium-Ion battery production. The Cobalt was exported by a Hong-Kong mining company named Congo DongFang International Mining. The Washington Post found that the mining company was sourcing Cobalt from Kolwezi, the North of DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo.) Under UN and International trade regulations, minerals from this belt of Africa are called Conflict Minerals. Any trade with conflict minerals are illegal. The mines are artisanal, extremely hazardous and are notorious for using child slave labour. Data is hard to come by in this unregulated and underground economy. However countless fatalities occur each year in these mines due to extremely precarious and toxic working conditions, and extrajudicial killings by vigilante mining groups. The Washington post revealed that both Apple and Tesla were sourcing cobalt from DRC mines.
The insatiable appetite for the rechargeable battery market, from vehicles and mobile phones to military drones, has lined the pockets of international conglomerates and eased the consciousness of consumers striving to be ‘Green’. However the shift from fossil fuels and other forms of energy, has come at a huge price for people on the ground, with a litany of reported human rights abuses throughout the production process. e DRC is the capital of cobalt and tin mining with mainly Chinese companies exporting to the US, Europe and China. Companies conveniently fall short of sufficiently monitoring where their Cobalt comes from. Despite an Amnesty International report accusing Congo DongFang of relying on child labour, few companies have acted to thoroughly vet their cobalt connections and clean up the dirty industry from which they profit immensely.
My second inquiry was focused on the Nail Varnish company, Orly International, a Bahraini cosmetic company owned by CEO Jeff Pink. The cosmetic company are the largest distributors of nail varnish across Europe and the UAE. They are an umbrella company for fourteen Nail Varnish enterprises across Europe and the US. The Bahraini company exploits a loophole, as their products are distributed in the UAE, they are not prohibited from trading with conflict minerals, which is only regulated in the EU. Orly International moved their HQ and manufacturing from Belgium into Bahrain in late 2015. Around the same time they changed their suppliers to the Fang Brothers. The majority of their nail varnish products contain tin oxide and cassiterite, which give the varnish a shiny surface. Both the tech giant Apple and the cosmetic king Orly International, have unashamedly dirtied their hands within the Congolese mining industries. Beneath the glossy fetishised surfaces of our favourite products is a filthy, hidden and violent industry.