IMPACT on Cobalt
Just as we have promoted a legal and conflict-free 3T and gold supply chain that benefits artisanal miners and their communities,
our efforts have expanded to cobalt.
What is cobalt?
Cobalt is a hard, brittle metal found in the earth’s crust.
Where is cobalt found?
Over half of the global supply of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The amount of cobalt produced from DRC is only expected to grow in the coming years as large-scale mining projects increase in the country to correspond with demand. Cobalt is also mined from key deposits in a number of other areas around the world, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Russia, and Zambia. After being mined, Cobalt is most commonly processed in Asia.
How do you use cobalt?
If you regularly use a smartphone or laptop, drive an electric car, or rely on other technology that runs using lithium-ion batteries, you are a cobalt consumer. Used in ancient times as a pigment, cobalt now also appears in magnets, solar panels, high-tech turbines, prosthetics, and even cancer treatments. In its various forms, cobalt also has many chemical and industrial uses. However, it is cobalt’s crucial role in the expanding green technology movement that is leading to an explosion in demand for the mineral.
How is cobalt mined?
Cobalt is rarely mined alone—it is often a byproduct of other metals, especially copper and nickel. Only 2% comes from mines that primarily produce cobalt. Cobalt is often mined and processed in large-scale operations using heavy industrial equipment. Still, as much as 20% of the cobalt produced in the DRC comes from artisanal miners.
Cobalt, security, and human rights
Cobalt isn’t strictly defined as a conflict mineral and falls outside the scope of most international conflict mineral regulations, such as those created by the US and European Union. It has also not been included in the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region’s (ICGLR) efforts to ensure legal, traceable, and conflict-free supply chains within the Great Lakes region of Africa.
But as demand for the mineral grows and investigations spotlight human rights abuses at artisanal mines, there are renewed calls for traceability and due diligence.
Though as much as 20% of cobalt in DRC is mined artisanally, miners remain informal and lack regulation and adequate safety training or standards. Significant human rights abuses have been tied to the artisanal mining of cobalt, including child labour and gender-based violence at mine sites.
Artisanal miners often encounter hazardous conditions and communities nearby frequently have to deal with environmental degradation and exposure to a range of threats to their health, including toxic metal contamination. Additionally, as the processing of cobalt requires a significant amount of water, the implications and the strain of water being diverted away from the community can become a source for conflict.
International investigations and consumer pressure has resulted in increased calls for the private sector to implement the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas within cobalt supply chains.
Our research investigates the drivers of the illicit trade of conflict-prone minerals and highlights recommendations such as formalization of the artisanal mining sector, fiscal reform, harmonization of legislation, and strengthening of internal controls to end smuggling.
We provide analysis of certification, traceability, and due diligence as they apply to minerals, such as cobalt.
As part of our work to transform the cobalt supply chain, we’ve led efforts to support traceability and due diligence for all minerals—including cobalt—while promoting benefits for the miners, their communities, and producing countries.
We contributed to the development of the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas and promote its implementation across the cobalt supply chain.
We provide capacity building and sensitization to policymakers, civil society, and the private sector on their responsibilities with regards to international and regional regulations, as well as due diligence. We also work with stakeholders to develop strategies to improve controls and end illicit trade.
We drive dialogue with international and local actors to promote traceability and due diligence for cobalt and to ensure the benefits of mining reach the miners and their communities.
We provide sensitization and open dialogue on the needs of artisanal miners and restrictions they may face when entering the formal economy.
We conduct significant outreach on women’s rights, especially their rights to access, control, and benefit from natural resources.
We also promote sensitization and raise awareness among consumers about the origins of the cobalt in products they use.
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