The metal is a key ingredient in Apple's lithium-ion batteries for iPhones and iPads. Apple has been trying to end child labor in mines that produce cobalt for the company and said it is working with non-government entities (NGOs) in the country to stop it.
A Bloomberg report, citing an anonymous source, said the iPhone maker was seeking contracts to buy several thousand metric tonnes of cobalt for five years or longer. The unnamed sources claim that Apple began talks with the miners over a year ago and that it could decide to walk away without a deal in place.
Apple is not the only company seeking long-term cobalt supply deals: BMW has been seeking its own 10-year deal for its electric auto program. Carmakers are also racing to lock up cobalt contracts as they prepare to make more electric vehicles. Because Apple makes the single most popular phone model on the planet, it gets the brunt of the criticism.
Mining giant Glencore has named Apple as one of several companies it is talking to about future supplies.
Apple has not responded to an Observer request for comment.
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So far, no major deals have been announced, although BMW's head of procurement told German daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in early February that it was close to securing a 10-year supply deal. Over the past eighteen months, the price of cobalt has tripled to more than $80,000 a metric ton.
China, where most of Apple's devices are manufactured, is not only the world's biggest market for smartphones and electric cars, but also the largest consumer of cobalt around the globe.
Rights group Amnesty International said previous year about a fifth of Congo's cobalt production is mined by hand by informal miners including children, often in risky conditions. If successful, such strategies could also help to alleviate price pressures and prevent a repeat of the 1978 "Cobalt Crisis", which saw rapid price spikes and supply shortages after an insurgency in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then called Zaire) disrupted operations in cobalt mining areas.
Apple has increased its engagement with cobalt miners in recent years due to scrutiny from global human rights organizations.