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Is Cobalt a conflict mineral?

Cobalt is used to make some beautiful pigments, and turns up in a lot of artist paints. 

Cobalt Blue

Cobalt Green

Cobalt Violet

It's also used in compound to make other pigments such as Cerulean. 

I recently bought myself a Cobalt Turquoise paint. 

So I was horrified when I started investigating the ethics and sustainability of art, to discover that cobalt could be a conflict mineral

The majority of the world's cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where huge human rights abuses take place, including child labour, slave labour and even genocide. The impact of the mines on the surrounding environment is devastating, and could even be contributing to birth defects in the local population, not to mention the local wildlife. 

So this leads me to ask: should we be using cobalt based paints at all? Until I know more, I am certainly not going to choose cobalt or cerulean pigments. 

I'm also curious: which other compounds are used in our paints and where do they come from? Are the extraction industries involved, and how ethical are they? 

And as a side note, I'm also troubled by the fact that a large amount of the cobalt mined in DRC is used to make batteries for electric vehicles: we chose a Nissan Leaf as our family car, based mostly on the idea that it was an ethical, environmentally friendly choice. 

What are your thoughts on cobalt? Will you carry on using it as a pigment or make other choices?

Drop me a line with your thoughts on this topic!

(originally published on 30th September 2018)

Rose WildsmithComment