Making Mining Safe and Fair: Artisanal Cobalt Extraction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The World Economic Forum White Paper 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 actions that can eliminate violations of human rights, particularly the use of child labor, and provides recommendations on how to integrate human rights standards into business practices. The findings of the paper are intended to inform future dialogue on the responsible sourcing of cobalt from the DRC.

Authors: Dorothée Baumann-Pauly, Serra Cremer Iyi, Michael Posner & Paul Barrett
Date: 1 September 2020
Publisher: World Economic Forum

Scroll down to download this white paper and consult its key findings.

Key Findings

Quote from the report: “Any efforts to develop responsible sourcing practices need to focus primarily on ASM operations”

Key Finding 1

ASM production constitutes 15–30% of total cobalt production in the DRC. Human rights risks, including child labour, are greatly elevated in ASM operations. Yet ASM is often the sole form of livelihood for those in destitute local communities. Any efforts to develop responsible sourcing practices need to focus primarily on ASM operations, both on ASM sites and ASM activities that take place within large-scale industrial mining (LSM) concessions. Companies sourcing cobalt from the DRC must implement sustainable sourcing strategies that include the establishment of clear labour standards in line with the DRC’s mining code and a system to implement those standards. This formalization of ASM sites on LSM concessions will require a range of actions including: 1) fencing off mining sites with access controls; 2) introducing safety measures, as well as the mechanical preparation of open pits that do not require deep pits or tunnel constructions; and 3) involving one or multiple independent cooperatives of artisanal miners to oversee the implementation of safety standards and negotiations with the mining company.

Key Finding 2

The formalization of ASM practices is an essential step to address the widespread human rights problems that are prevalent today at Congolese mining sites. The jobs and income created on formalized ASM sites can also help reduce extreme poverty, which is a root cause of child labour. The formalization of ASM will produce a number of social and economic benefits for local communities. These may include: 1) creating stable employment for adults, which will reduce the need for extra income from child labour and provide funds for school fees; 2) ensuring safer working conditions and reducing the number of accidents through capacity- and skills-building training for miners; 3) achieving higher productivity levels and generating higher income for miners as a result of betterorganized operations; 4) promoting female employment and respect for women across a range of mining tasks, including the bestremunerated ones; 5) improving the health of miners and community members; 6) creating new business opportunities in response to higher output levels and higher demand for goods and services; 7) ensuring effective and transparent representation of miners’ labour rights through the formation of cooperatives that are empowered to negotiate prices.

Key Finding 3

Formalization will also require the development of industry standards, performance metrics and an implementation system that includes routine monitoring and evaluation of mining operations to ensure compliance with these standards. The standards must respond to industry needs and address the very specific human rights and environmental impacts of each different operational site. Regulatory agencies, industry associations and multinational companies have all publicly recognized the validity of the ASM sector as an important revenue generator for impoverished communities. Also, the DRC government has developed a range of legal instruments, regulations and guidance on ASM formalization. A common standard developed through a multistakeholder process needs to reflect and reinforce DRC law and help to build capacity for its enforcement.

Key Finding 4

In addition to the formalization of ASM sites, it is important to understand the multidimensional root causes of persistent human rights issues in the DRC’s mining context. Addressing underlying socioeconomic causes related to extreme poverty, food insecurity, lack of social protection systems and an underinvestment in affordable education and health services requires specific attention. In addition to building basic infrastructure (schools and day-care facilities), social development programmes must build capacity in the community by including programmes that enhance and diversify the miners’ economic opportunities such as apprenticeships, financial literacy courses and microloan programmes. Comprehensive remediation strategies need to be developed in collaboration with the DRC government and with supplemental funding from the international community.

Draft of the French translation

Cover of the draft translation

Please find here the current translation of “Making Mining Safe and Fair”. It will be updated regularly until its final approved version.

Media coverage

Donna Slater, Mining Weekly, WEF White Paper highlights human rights fragility in DRC’s artisanal mining sector (17 September 2020)

Anton Vos, Le Journal de l’UNIGE, Concilier mines artisanales et droits humains, c’est possible (23 September 2020)

Laura Cornish, Mining Review Africa, Artisanal cobalt mining in the DRC: steps already in play (24 May 2021)

Media mention
ReliefWeb (17 September 2020)