Our work in the extractives context identifies responsible sourcing practices in the Congolese cobalt supply chain. We conduct independent desk and field research and publish our findings in the form of white papers, op-eds, and case studies. We also offer stakeholders in the global battery supply chain a safe space to discuss the human rights challenges they face in their operations and make recommendations that are supported by our independent analyses. We currently work with the Cobalt Action Partnership, a multi-stakeholder initiative that is part of the Global Battery Alliance, to establish common standards for responsible ASM in the Congolese cobalt supply chain.
The Cobalt Knowledge Hub consists of recent academic and non-academic reports and papers relevant to artisanal mining of cobalt and the battery supply chain.
Responsible Sourcing of Cobalt
Cobalt is a key component of rechargeable batteries that power electric vehicles and everyday electronics like smartphones, tablets and laptops. By 2030, the global electric vehicle stock is expected to reach 30 times above today’s level triggering a fourfold growth in the global demand for cobalt. More than 70% of the global cobalt production takes place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where nearly half of the world’s cobalt reserves are located.
Artisanal mining which refers to extraction of the metal by individual, often independent miners using basic tools, accounts for 15-30% of Congolese cobalt production and is the second largest cobalt-mining sector in the world. Artisanal mining is a lifeline for more than 2 million Congolese as it often constitutes the only livelihood for local communities and generates up to five times the income of agricultural activities. As such, ASM is a business reality in the cobalt supply chain.
Sourcing cobalt from the DRC is linked to major human rights risks including child labour and health and safety issues. These human rights risks are elevated in artisanal mining. However, given the DRC’s unparalleled reserves and production capacity, there is no alternative to Congolese cobalt. To address human rights risks, all stakeholders need to collaborate to develop a common set of responsible sourcing standards for cobalt from the DRC, including for cobalt from artisanal mining sites.
Our objective is to analyze viable solutions to mitigating key human rights risks in the cobalt supply chain in the DRC. We engage with key stakeholders to encourage the development of common standards that ensure Congolese cobalt is sourced responsibly. We publish our research insights in public reports, OpEds, and teaching case studies and deliver presentations that outline our findings and recommendations.
Between June and September 2019, we conducted desk research at our partner institution, New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights. In September 2019, Professor Dorothée Baumann-Pauly visited formalization projects in Kolwezi, DRC and conducted interviews with 30+ local stakeholders including representatives of miners’ unions, civil society organizations, and the provincial government.
We collated our findings and recommendations in a comprehensive report Making Mining Safe and Fair: Artisanal cobalt extraction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (PDF) that was published as part of the World Economic Forum’s White Paper series.
Throughout the research process, we have been in touch with the Global Battery Alliance (GBA), a platform at the World Economic Forum that also supported the research trip to the DRC. Since the spring of 2020, we are a facilitator in the GBA’s multi-stakeholder initiative on cobalt (the Cobalt Action Partnership, CAP), which aims to develop a common set of industry standards for artisanal cobalt mining in line with the DRC’s national laws and strategies.
Key Activities and Publications
- Cobalt must be included in Swiss responsible business legislation, Op-Ed, Swissinfo (June 2021)
- As cobalt demand booms, companies must do more to protect Congolese miners, Op-Ed, The Conversation (November 2020)
- Mercurtrade Cobalt, Microsimulation for teaching (November 2020)
- Why Cobalt Mining in the DRC Needs Urgent Attention, Blog Post, Council on Foreign Relations (October 2020)
- How Tesla Should Combat Child Labor In The Democratic Republic Of The Congo, Op-Ed by Michael Posner of NYU Stern Center for BHR, Forbes (October 2020)
- Making Mining Safe and Fair: Artisanal Cobalt Extraction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (PDF), White Paper, World Economic Forum (September 2020)
- Cobalt can be sourced responsibly, and it’s time to act, Op-Ed, SwissInfo (September 2020)
- Partner and Facilitator, the Cobalt Action Partnership (CAP) of the Global Battery Alliance (January 2020-present)
- Discussion Paper (PDF), Annual Meeting 2020 of the World Economic Forum’s Global Battery Alliance in Davos, Switzerland (January 2020)
- Research Trip to Artisanal Mines in Kolwezi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Collaboration with the World Economic Forum’s Global Battery Alliance (September 2019)
- How New Business Models Can Address Human Rights Risks in the Cobalt Supply Chain (PDF), Research Paper and Presentation, the 2019 Global Business and Human Rights Scholars Association in Essex, UK (September 2019)
Making Mining Safe and Fair: Artisanal cobalt extraction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
The World Economic Forum White Paper Making Mining Safe and Fair: Artisanal cobalt extraction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (PDF) is an independent expert assessment based on Prof. Dorothee Baumann-Pauly’s review of three pilot projects that seek to formalize artisanal mining of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The paper identifies how companies can address human rights issues, particularly around mine safety and child labor, and it provides recommendations on how to integrate human rights standards into business operations. The findings of the paper are intended to inform future dialogue on the responsible sourcing of cobalt from the DRC.