An industry alliance has been formed to improve the cobalt supply chain and create a “fair production system”.
The Fair Cobalt Alliance (FCA) – founded by charity The Impact Facility, Fairphone, Signify and Huayou Cobalt – aims to improve working conditions in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which produces more than two-thirds of global cobalt supply.
The FCA has established a programme to support artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM), which accounts for 10-20% of cobalt production in the DRC but is linked to hazardous working conditions and child labour.
The initiative will help ASM become safer and more environmentally responsible, establish child-labour free mining zones through monitoring, control mechanisms and better access to education, and provide community programmes.
The FCA will invest in improvements to on-site safety and productivity, and “forge economically sustainable, long-term sourcing relationships” by connecting ASM to companies in the electronics and automotive sectors interested in responsibly-produced minerals.
As more companies transition to sustainable energy and electrification, the demand for battery technology will increase and the global cobalt supply is not projected to meet demand, leading to a rise in ASM.
“Given the relevance of ASM cobalt as a local livelihood and the fact that this material finds its way into complex global supply chains and into materials and devices on which we depend, the security of cobalt supply chains is more important than ever as our need for this highly relevant mineral in the new digital economy becomes evident,” said The Impact Facility.
“Where we find environmental, social or labour problems in supply chains, we should not avoid them, we should not disengage, but rather it is our duty to take action and make improvements.”
The five-year programme will start with two mines in Kasulu and Kamilombe in southeast DRC.
Benjamin Katz, policy analyst at the OECD, said: “Millions of livelihoods in the Democratic Republic of Congo and around the world depend on ASM. The OECD encourages industry to responsibly engage with the sector through progressive improvement instead of avoiding it, which often only makes problems in ASM more hidden.
“We fully support the Fair Cobalt Alliance’s goal of investing in better working conditions for ASM, and other similar projects, in order to bring more transparency to the sector while expanding market access for small-scale producers.”
Other members of the FCA include Glencore, the Responsible Cobalt Initiative, German mobility provider Sono Motors, power bank supplier Lifesaver, and development organisations Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, and the Congolese Centre Arrupe pour la Recherche et la Formation. Support has come from the DRC and Dutch governments.
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