Responsible cobalt sourcing in the DRC

Speakers: Hadassah Arian and Espérant Mwishamali Lukobo

In the context of the energy transition from fossil fuels to ‘green energy’ technologies, the demand for metals and minerals required to power these technologies has increased significantly. One prime example is cobalt, a key component of the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries of electric vehicles. Around 60 to 70% of the world’s cobalt supply currently comes from the southeastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). While the majority of cobalt in the DRC is produced through large scale industrial mining (LSM), an estimated 20% comes from artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). Along with soaring demand, attention has increased for the human rights violations taking place upstream of the cobalt supply chain, with a specific focus on child labor and dire working conditions in ASM. With market demands and sustainability pressures coming together, so-called ‘responsible sourcing programmes’ have mushroomed since about five years. This research uses an assemblage approach to analyze ASM formalization efforts under the banner of responsible sourcing in the DRC’s cobalt mining sector.

In this presentation we point to key issues, challenges as well as possibilities within current formalization and responsible cobalt sourcing efforts. The findings we present are based on qualitative data gathered in Kolwezi and Lubumbashi, DRC, between September and November 2023. Within this period, we visited four ASM sites and conducted sixty in-depth interviews with a variety of actors, including governmental agencies, mining cooperatives, artisanal miners, traders, washing women, NGO and civil society actors, and industry representatives.

Key words: cobalt supply chain, Democratic Republic of Congo, responsible sourcing, ASM formalization