Switching from fossil fuels to electrified transportation is a core strategy in the global effort to combat climate change. The resulting demand surge for cobalt required in the production of batteries is piling pressure on a vulnerable supply chain.
Two thirds of global cobalt production originates from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A significant volume of that output is produced by the artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) sector. Well over 200,000 miners, working in tough, often dangerous conditions, rely on the sector for their livelihoods. This activity can be illegal in some cases but it cannot be wished away. Small-scale mining activities provide an essential livelihood for millions of people worldwide.
Those of us in the cobalt supply chain and wider metals industry cannot stand idle. We have a choice. We can either isolate and shun ASM workers, or we can roll-up our sleeves and improve the situation. Transforming working conditions and the lives of those impacted is surely in all of our best interests. And this is what we have been trying to achieve at the Mutoshi Cobalt Pilot Project in Kolwezi, DRC.
With the support of DRC authorities, and in a unique collaboration between concession-holders Chemaf, Trafigura, the cooperative COMIAKOL and the NGO PACT, amongst others, we have arranged semi-mechanised small-scale mining activities within the Mutoshi concession. Working within the framework of Trafigura’s policies and the OECD’s Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains, anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000 miners have participated in the project.
The project is by no means perfect, but it offers useful lessons in ASM formalisation. Above all, it has delivered a notable social and economic impact at a local level. We wanted to understand this impact more fully, which is why we commissioned this report. Researchers were given open access and have, as a result, harvested many valuable insights. The human stories captured have resonated strongly with the broad-based improvements that we originally sought to achieve: “I must tell you that women’s working conditions have improved significantly”, said one of the miners interviewed.
The report highlights strengths, weaknesses and many areas for improvement. Our objective at Trafigura is to learn from these findings and play our part in ensuring that the developmental potential of cobalt – whether from large scale or small-scale production - is ultimately realised.