DR Congo

Making Mining Safe and Fair: Artisanal Cobalt Extraction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Executive Summary

"Artisanal mining is a lifeline for millions of impoverished people in the DRC. We need to see companies working with the authorities to formalize it – make it safer, remove children, provide miners with a fair price."
Mark Dummett, Head of Business, Security and Human Rights at Amnesty International, quoted in The Financial Times, 28 May 2020

Global demand for cobalt, a key component of lithium-ion batteries used in consumer electronics and electric vehicles, is expected to grow fourfold by 2030.

More than 70% of the global production of cobalt takes place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), of which 15–30% comes from so-called artisanal and small-scale mines where independent miners use their own resources to extract the mineral.

Sourcing cobalt from the DRC is linked to major human rights risks, which have been widely documented. The prevalence of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in the cobalt supply chain creates challenges for establishing responsible sourcing practices. This white paper assesses recent company approaches to formalizing ASM. Formalization of an informal industry is generally defined as the development of standards in line with basic human rights principles and environmental standards. In the case of ASM, these standards include basic infrastructure, health and safety measures, and monitoring to assess compliance with these standards.

The insights from three ASM formalization projects stem from field research conducted in Kolwezi, DRC, in September 2019, with insights largely drawn from the Mutoshi site because it is the only running ASM cobalt formalization project. The main objective of analysing these formalization projects is not to assess the current effectiveness of the pilots but to inform the factors that would need to be put in place to make ASM formalization projects scalable and replicable, based on the limited sample of existing formalization projects.

The field research shows that the formalization of ASM is necessary. Fully examining lessons and best practices to inform a comprehensive assessment of formalization of ASM will require consultation with all stakeholders, particularly those working in the DRC’s mining communities. However, the research does not show that the model of ASM on a large-scale industrial mining (LSM) concession is the best or only model for formalization. If it is implemented well, formalization can address key human rights concerns relating to cobalt mining, including child labour and health and safety issues. Yet today there are no common standards to formalize ASM, which hampers the establishment of responsible ASM in the cobalt market and the likelihood of ASM cobalt from responsible sources entering the formal supply chain.