By Annie Callaway
An Introduction from John Prendergast
Cobalt has rapidly emerged as an essential ingredient for some of world’s fastest-growing industries, with products ranging from electric cars to laptop computers to cell phones. The Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo) decisively dominates global cobalt supply. This could be a good news story, of how rapid technological innovations which drive demand for raw materials could potentially be an engine of development for a long-suffering country with the majority of the world’s supply of one of those critical raw materials.
Unfortunately, the story is beginning to unfold in a much different way, but it doesn’t have to.
Increasingly, cobalt production in Congo is tied to grand corruption which undermines peace and democracy in the country and along with copper are two of the main sources of funds for the violent kleptocracy that President Joseph Kabila presides over. Cobalt production in Congo is also marked by human rights abuses, including child labor at the mines, well documented by Amnesty International and others. Because of the devastating impact the sourcing of cobalt for the products we buy has on Congolese citizens, urgent action is required to shine a light on the insidious linkages in Congo’s cobalt trade, to help alter the incentive structure away from violence, corruption and human rights abuses and towards a transparent, peaceful and responsible supply chain.
Throughout 2017 and 2018, my colleagues at the Enough Project have conducted field and supply chain research on potential links between corruption, violence, human rights violations, and cobalt mining in Congo. As a result of this research, the Enough Project will be publishing two reports—this being the first—that highlight perspectives from the two ends of the supply chain.
This first report focuses on observations and recommendations from within Congo, including Congolese cobalt and copper miners in both the artisanal and industrial sectors, domestic traders, civil society activists, and local government representatives. We wanted to start by understanding the perspectives of those most impacted by the global cobalt trade. The second report will highlight the actions – current and potential – being taken by those profiting from and otherwise benefiting from Congo’s cobalt, including both companies and their customers.
Both reports will incorporate perspectives from stakeholders throughout the supply chain, because all of these stakeholders have distinct perspectives and needs, and the changes that are needed ultimately implicate all involved. This research is meant to serve as a complement to other studies on Congo’s cobalt sector conducted by colleague organizations such as Amnesty International, the Carter Center, and Global Witness.
It should be noted as well that cobalt mining occurs almost exclusively in tandem with or as a byproduct of copper mining. Copper is used in a wide variety of construction, transportation, defense technology, and machinery worldwide. In 2017, the National Mining Association reported that copper was the second most used mineral by the U.S. Department of Defense. Given this global industrial criticality, many of the contracts currently coveted for their cobalt production in Congo were first established mainly for their copper potential, before the surge in international demand for cobalt. Therefore, many of the findings and recommendations in this report can also be strategically applied to copper industry stakeholders in Congo and throughout the supply chain.
In addition to the reports, the Enough Project will also be launching an associated campaign to engage activists and consumers on policies that counter corruption, violence, and human rights abuses connected to Congo’s cobalt trade. The campaign will focus on highlighting opportunities for companies to become leaders on these issues, especially through the approaches to be detailed more thoroughly in the second report in this series.
John Prendergast Founding Director Enough Project