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4 Jun 2021

Dorothée Baumann-Pauly and Serra Cremer Iyi for Swissinfo

Commentary: Cobalt must be included in Swiss responsible business legislation

"Cobalt must be included in Swiss responsible business legislation", 4 June 2021

The government is holding consultations on a new law to hold companies accountable for the adverse impact of their operations on people after the Responsible Business Initiative failed at the ballot box last year.

The scope of the due diligence duty under the new law is much narrower than the original initiative in that it only requires companies trading or processing metals and minerals to conduct human rights due diligence if the products come from “conflict and high-risk areas” or where “child labour may be involved”. This duty applies to 23 byproducts listed in the annex including the so-called “conflict minerals” of tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold (also known as the 3TG).

Yet cobalt, arguably the hottest commodity for many years to come, is not on the list. It should be...

...cobalt is being mined in another “high-risk area” with well-known child labour and mine safety issues that warrant comparable scrutiny. In 2016, Amnesty International published a report outlining the use of child labour in artisanal and small-scale cobalt mines and other examples of unsafe working conditions in those mines...

...Incorporating cobalt into the new law is particularly important in the Swiss context as Switzerland is home to two of the largest players in the global cobalt supply chain, Glencore and Trafigura.

As traders of Congolese cobalt, both companies are well-aware of the human rights challenges in the country’s cobalt mines and are trying to address the issues...

..Including cobalt in the law [...] should promote responsible sourcing practices and strengthen existing efforts of companies and the Congolese government, including the EGC, to address human rights violations in the battery supply chain. It also should provide companies already adopting responsible sourcing in the DRC a competitive advantage...

...By requiring human rights due diligence for cobalt, the Swiss counterproposal can reinforce the Congolese government’s efforts to formalise artisanal cobalt production. It can also reassure buyers that Congolese cobalt is responsibly sourced and elevate its market acceptance...

...With consultations on the Swiss law ending in mid-July, now is the time for the government to ensure future mobility is not only clean but also respectful of human rights.