Cobalt: Will there be changes to DRC ASM production in the 2020s?

Artisanal mining

The Responsible Minerals Initiative (RMI) and RCS Global Group (RCS Global) have announced a new strategic partnership to scale their existing efforts to drive continual improvements in the production of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) of cobalt in the DRC.

Roskill View

Artisanal cobalt mining in the DRC provides livelihoods to thousands of individuals. Although artisanal mining is regulated by the DRC’s 2002 mining code, the stipulations of this code are widely ignored and rarely enforced. Few artisanal miners are officially registered owing to the perceived cost, difficulty, and lack of benefits associated with the process. Consequently, artisanal mining in the DRC is usually an inefficient, dangerous enterprise.

RCS Global’s Better Mining program aims to support supply chain risk management and positive impact generation at the source of global raw materials supply chains. Since 2018, it has focussed on improving human rights and health and safety conditions on individual cobalt ASM sites in the DRC. The RMI is an established resource for over 380 companies from a range of industries, addressing responsible mineral sourcing issues in their supply chains.

The new partnership will enable the Better Mining program to be expanded to additional mine sites with the aim of strengthening connections between the downstream and upstream ASM cobalt supply chain. Each site will receive monthly corrective action plans with support given to mine operators to deliver plans and make improvements. Site monitoring information will also be provided to downstream consumers to support their due diligence efforts.

Such initiatives are among a growing number of approaches to try and improve conditions for ASM workers in the DRC whilst, at the same time, promoting sustainable sourcing. These are not just being spearheaded by NGOs, but also by industry. For example, BMW, BASF, and Samsung launched a pilot project in 2018 aimed at improving artisanal mining working conditions. Another good example is the agreement between Trafigura and CHEMAF, whereby Trafigura provided material and technical support to artisanal miners operating at Mutoshi; however, this was suspended in March due to the effects of COVID-19.

Ultimately, solutions to the problems facing ASM workers need the support of the whole cobalt supply chain and, especially, government. In January, news broke that a new DRC state-owned company was being set up to buy and market all artisinally-mined cobalt. To be controlled by Gécamines, Entreprise Générale du Cobalt (EGC), it is to be granted monopoly powers to purchase and market cobalt from the ASM sector. The move was hailed by the DRC authorities as a way to improve a sector with a reputation for child labour and poor working conditions, although some have questioned whether EGC is simply a government vehicle to ensure value-capture from ASM cobalt, hitherto captured mainly by Chinese traders. Time will tell; Roskill understands that the initiative has stalled for now.

Roskill’s Cobalt: Outlook to 2029, 15th Edition report was published in August 2019. Click here to download the brochure and sample pages for the report, or to access further information. A new update for this report will be available in May for subscribers, which will include detailed analysis regarding COVID-19 impacts on the cobalt market.

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This article was written by Jack Bedder. Please get in touch below if you wish to discuss further:

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