Cobalt, the essential ingredient in the production of lithium-ion batteries for telephone and other gadgets, has seen its prices skyrocketed of late due to an expected growth in demand for electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries. About a quarter of global cobalt production is used in smartphones.
In order to produce the millions of batteries needed for the next generations of iPhones and iPads, Apple is looking to acquire a few thousand metric tons of cobalt annually for at least the next five years.
Bloomberg says that talks first began more than a year ago, and Apple is seeking a long-term deal - though nothing is yet certain.
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If there is a shortage, Apple will have nothing to fear because it would have already secured a hefty supply of the element in the first place.
Talks with cobalt miners could be the outcome of concerns over the shortage of cobalt as the demand from the electric vehicles escalates.
Amnesty International published a report in January 2016 about cobalt mines, saying that tech companies and auto 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. 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. BMW is also close to securing a 10-year supply deal with an unnamed supplier in February.
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Apple declined to comment on the report.
"In 2017, average annual cobalt prices more than doubled, owing to strong demand from consumers, limited availability of cobalt on the spot market and an increase in metal purchases by investors", the U.S. Geological Survey said in its annual report. Over the past eighteen months, the price of cobalt has tripled to more than $80,000 a metric ton. The human rights group alleged that Apple and Samsung were using cobalt from mines in China and the Congo that rely on child labor.
"The problem has nothing to do with the amount of cobalt in the ground but rather the number of mines now producing cobalt", said Trent Mell, CEO of First Cobalt Corp, the world biggest cobalt exploration company. Although Glencore - a name which may be familiar to you - is the biggest supplier, two-thirds of all cobalt supplies actually come from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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