ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — A measure has been introduced in the US House to ban imported products containing minerals that are crucial for electric vehicle batteries but extracted through child labor and other unfair conditions in Congo, where China has huge mining interests.
The bill targets China, which sponsors New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith, says it uses forced labor and exploits children to mine cobalt in the impoverished but resource-rich Central African country.
Congo is the world’s largest producer of cobalt, a mineral used to make lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles, an important pillar of President Joe Biden’s climate plans. China controls the majority of Congo’s cobalt mines, strengthening Beijing’s position in the global supply chain for electric vehicles and other products.
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“On the backs of trafficked and child laborers, the Chinese Communist Party is exploiting the Democratic Republic of Congo’s vast cobalt resources to fuel its economy and global agenda,” Smith’s office said in a statement following the bill’s introduction on Friday.
The legislation comes amid strained ties between the US and China. Biden referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “dictator at a fundraiser last month, sparking outrage from Beijing. That followed tensions over a Chinese surveillance balloon that the US government has shot down US-led restrictions China’s access to advanced computer chipsand the status and security of Taiwan.
But the Biden administration is trying to ease those tensions with a visit to China this week by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, following Secretary of State Antony Blinken two-day stop in Beijing last month.
China has a 68% stake in Sicomines, the copper and cobalt joint venture with Congolese state-owned mining company Gecamines, following a 2008 infrastructure-for-minerals deal, which Congo is now seeking to review amid concerns it is taking too little advantage of the agreement.
Congo is also Africa’s largest producer of copper, and lithium has recently been found there – also important components of EV batteries.
The extraction of the minerals has been linked to child and exploitative labour, environmental abuse and safety risks. In a 2016 report, Amnesty International blamed Chinese companies for child labor in Congo’s cobalt mining industry and multinational technology companies for failing to address the negative consequences. human rights issue in their supply chains.
U.S. law prohibits the importation of “goods, commodities, articles or merchandise containing metals or minerals, especially cobalt and lithium and their derivatives, mined, produced, smelted or processed in whole or in part by child or forced labor into the DRC,” Smith’s office said.
The legislation also requires the president to enforce and impose sanctions, including visa and transaction bans, on foreign actors who facilitate and exploit child labor in Congo.
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