The Cost of a Mobile Phone

Communication technology has advanced at an incredible rate over the last few decades and none more so than in mobile phone devices.

It really is not so long ago that a cell phone,as it was then called, had to be transported about in a mini suitcase. The device itself was massive and you used it to phone people.

Today we have mobile phones where we can do hundreds of other things on it apart from phoning people. Indeed using it as an actual telephone is not what attracts customers to the devices.

Accessing the internet, gaming, gambling, going on social media, taking photos, texting,banking, travel information: all these things and more you can do on a mobile phone. And, of course, all the time you are leaving a record of where you are at a given time.

It’s also the fashion to change your mobile phone regularly and there is a wide range in prices.

But what is the actual cost of your mobile phone?


Cobalt is quite a rare metal which is found in the Earth’s crust.


It is used to produce alloys and hard metals. If the dust is ingested it can cause serious issues in the respiratory system.

The respiratory system is the main target organ (asthma, fibrosing alveolitis, lung cancer) on inhalation exposure to cobalt, with a higher risk of fibrosing alveolitis (hard metal disease) and lung cancer in the hard metal industry, where workers are exposed to cobalt metal mixed with tungstencarbide particles. Cobalt an overview, Dominique Lison

The demand for cobalt has increased at a phenomenal rate because it is used in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries for smartphones and electric cars.

60% of cobalt is supplied by the mineral-rich Katanga copper belt, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Researchers at KU Leuven (Belgium) and the University of Lubumbashi have been studying the consequences on the humans who mine the cobalt and those who live nearby.

Professor Nemery, a doctor-toxicologist at the KU Leuven Department of Public Health and Primary Care, said:

“Children living in the mining district had 10 times as much cobalt in their urine as children living elsewhere. Their values were much higher than what we’d accept for European factory workers. This study may be limited in scope, but the results are crystal-clear. The differences cannot be attributed to coincidence.”

“Furthermore, we found more DNA damage in children living in the mining area than in those from the control group. And the preliminary results of an ongoing study suggest that miners’ newborn babies have an increased risk of birth defects.” Sustainability of artisanal mining of cobalt in DR Congo

It’s not just the serious health and environmental issues that the mining of cobalt at such an increased rate  is the problem.

Many of the mines that have sprung up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are run with no thought to safety, workers are exploited some of whom are children and more recent evidence is now coming to light that children are also being sexually abused.

In June 2019 a copper and cobalt mine collapsed killing 43 miners. The Kamoto Copper Company, is a subsidiary of Swiss mining giant Glencore, based near Lualaba’s main city of Kolwezi.

International Rights Activists are taking the Tech giants to court. Firms including Apple, Google, Tesla, Microsoft, Dell and 2 mining corporations: Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt and Glencore, are being sued for damages over the deaths of child miners.

The lawsuit which is being filed in the USA accuses the international companies of knowingly being part of the exploitative supply chain of cobalt.

In our thirst to stay connected at all times; in our pursuit of  transport which is a greener, cleaner, electric future; it is not us who will pay the heaviest price. The cost is borne by  the miners, many of whom are children of D R Congo.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame 

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4 replies »

  1. Once again – good on you, Fiona!!!!

    The true cost – as well as the loss of peace of mind which comes from dependence on the dratted things.

    • Aye Bernie and a large part, in my view, of the so-called mental health problems among school bairns!!!

  2. I’m afraid the mental health problems are all too real, Charlie. And I also believe that dependence on having constant access to their ‘phone, and Social Media, plays its part in those problems.
    I have a friend who is a psycho-therapist, who tells me that more and more young people are coming to see her with anxiety, based on a feeling that they “have no-where to hide.” Not that they need to hide because they have done something wrong, but because they feel that their life is not their own – constant scrutiny, constant comment – often criticism, and sometimes extreme criticism. No-where to hide.
    Think about it – we used to be able to go out with our friends and enjoy ourselves – maybe make some mistakes! All part of life and growing up. Now – no-where to hide.
    I know – it’s their choice, but ‘grown-ups’ are bad enough about having a need to ‘fit in’. For young people, it’s very hard indeed to make the decision to exit Facebook, WhatsApp, Whatever.
    I’m hoping it’ll be like smoking, and actually become unfashionable – that it’ll come to be seen as un-cool and stupid to be always on your machine.

    And – at the other end of the process, as Fiona points out here – kids with no choice in the world, having every working hour possible squeezed out of them.

    What are we doing in this/with this world of ours?

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