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8 Feb 2023

Geneva Center for Human Rights, University of Geneva,
NYC Stern Center for Human Rights

DRC: New white paper urges companies to encourage effort to formalise artisanal mining of cobalt to tackle human rights concerns

As demand for cobalt used in electric vehicles and smart devices skyrockets, a new white paper urges dramatic changes to mining practices in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Companies that use the valuable mineral need to legitimize and encourage the formalization of artisanal small-scale mining (ASM) in the DRC, according to this paper co-published with NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights. Based on field research conducted in the DRC, the analysis details how the formalization of ASM is a viable approach for addressing root causes of human rights abuses in cobalt mining, alleviating extreme poverty in mining communities, and meeting the projected global demand for cobalt.

Cobalt Mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Addressing Root Causes of Human Rights Abuses (PDF) builds on an earlier case study of the integration of ASM at the Mutoshi mine in the DRC, a pilot project aimed at improving working conditions and eliminating child labor. Mutoshi’s promising formalization process included the full integration of women in ASM, a key factor in reducing child labor issues, and the implementation of site-safety standards. The new paper highlights how the pandemic-related suspension of formalization at Mutoshi resulted in heightened safety risks, the return of frequent mining accidents, and the resurgence of child labor...

Global buyers engaging in a futile attempt to avoid cobalt associated with ASM ignore the inconvenient truth that it is nearly impossible to separate the flow of ASM cobalt from the larger supply of industrially mined cobalt” said Dorothée Baumann-Pauly, author of the paper. “Without ASM cobalt, buyers will not be able to meet a global demand that is projected to increase four-fold by 2030. It is imperative that companies recognize this opportunity to encourage formalization and the responsible extraction of cobalt to contribute to a global energy transition that is not only green, but also just.”...

It is not a matter of whether solutions for the responsible and ethical sourcing of cobalt are possible - the demonstrated impacts of ASM formalization at Mutoshi support this framework’s viability - it is whether global companies who rely on cobalt will recognize their responsibility to encourage it” said Michael Posner, director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights...