We will collect data in Lualaba and South-Kivu through participatory research methods. The research will be carried out in partnership with the Centre d’Expertise en Gestion Minière (CEGEMI) at the Université Catholique de Bukavu (UCB). At the University of Lubumbashi (UNILU), a similar research center will be created as part of a new (separate) Belgium-DRC institutional collaboration that will start in 2022 (funded by the Flemish Interuniversity Cooperation). We will engage with a range of actors, with a focus on small-scale producers, workers and affected communities, to better understand whether and how they are able to participate in responsible sourcing initiatives. This includes digital technology, now increasingly adopted in global supply chain regulation.

Nowadays, the rapid innovations and spread of digital technologies hold huge potential for participation. New technologies have served to include citizens’ voices in decision-making, to report on supply-chain conditions and to monitor public service delivery. Digital technologies can also play a key role in shaping and enhancing small-scale producers’ participation in responsible sourcing initiatives. They may help to improve transparency, but also to monitor standards and report issues. Companies such as IBM and Ford are now experimenting with blockchain for cobalt. While in theory blockchain ensures full transparency, in practice this requires a lot of monitoring, institutional support and buy-in from all stakeholders. This project will assess small-scale producers’ access to and engagement with digital technologies in the context of supply-chain due diligence.

In summary, we will investigate small-scale producers’ involvement in decision-making processes and whether they have ‘a seat at the table’. A number of recent private or multi-stakeholder initiatives in responsible sourcing are trying to include small-scale producers and affected communities through steps such as facilitating their access to markets. A key question that our project will seek to answer is whether such initiatives foster 'real, authentic participation', and what needs to be done for this to happen.

Project objectives

  • To map the most recent developments in transnational non-state mineral supply chain regulation
  • To understand how small-scale producers participate in these regulatory initiatives
  • To understand the social dynamics and local knowledge surrounding these supply chains
  • To propose pathways for how small-scale producers can be put more in charge


This qualitative study combines several data collection methods by Antwerp-based and Congolese researchers. Data collection will involve desk-based research and analysis of relevant primary sources; semi-structured interviews; and focus groups. We will also assess small-scale producers’ digital connectedness through a survey; conduct participant observation; organize participatory mapping and other activities; and analyze small-scale producers’ representation in policy forums.