A Disconnected Source
The demand for cobalt is increasing as its use in batteries and everyday technology grows. Most of the world’s supply of this highly sought-after mineral is produced in the Congolese province of Lualaba, and a significant proportion of that from artisanal mines. For communities in the region, artisanal mining (ASM) is one of very few easily accessible sources of employment. Although providing a livelihood for thousands in a country where many people have no job at all, ASM is associated with highly hazardous working conditions, systemic child labour, and unfair trading practices exploiting local workers selling to traders on the open market.
Currently, these artisanal miners lack the means to better mining practices and access to capital to address structural hazards, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. While cobalt is heralded as a key ingredient in our global transition to a green economy, it is questionable whether the benefits it generates are being fairly distributed and reaching the communities who take the greatest risks in excavating it at its source.
Driving the supply of Fair Cobalt
The FCA drives the development of fair cobalt by supporting the professionalisation of ASM site management, ensuring an uptake of responsible mining practices and channelling financial investment into mine improvements, with the goal of making mines safer, minimising environmental impact and creating decent working conditions for men and women working at the mines.
Working towards child-labour free communities
To prevent children from working inside any of the cobalt mines, the FCA supports ASM operators to establish credible control and monitoring mechanisms to keep children out of the mines. But we cannot stop there. In order to tackle and prevent child labour not just inside the mines but throughout the communities, the FCA is supporting the enrollment of children into school, allowing children and youth access to education and vocational training.
Increasing household incomes
The FCA aims to address the root causes that perpetuate high risks associated with artisanal mining. Poverty constitutes one of the root causes of the ASM-related child labour and hazardous working conditions. The need to generate income drives miners to take continually greater safety risks at the mines and the temptation for children to contribute earnings to their families’ incomes from participating in the workforce. In an effort to support the ASM community transition into sustainable livelihoods, FCA will invest in programmes outside mining and into opportunities designed to create sustainable livelihoods for as many community members as possible.
Bringing the cobalt supply chain together
To address these deep-rooted problems is not the responsibility of one sector alone or any individual company. It will take a system-wide change. Only by joining forces throughout the cobalt supply chain, can we address and reverse these complex negative social and environmental impacts. Founded by Fairphone, Signify and Huayou and managed by the Impact Facility, Fair Cobalt Alliance’s ambition is to further scale its membership across the supply chain in order to increase its potential for positive impact. Our mission is to reform the conditions for cobalt mining communities by driving improvements at ASM mine-sites, eradicate child labour and protect children’s rights, and build diversified, resilient local mining communities. Any organisation operating as part of – or associated with – the global cobalt supply chain is welcomed to sign our Call to Action, join the FCA as a member and work collectively towards a growing supply of responsibly produced ASM cobalt.
Responding to the Call
As an action platform, the Fair Cobalt Alliance invites all organisations to join its founding partners to invest in mine improvement, the eradication of child labour and the economic diversification in mining communities. This encompasses large-scale mining organisations, refineries, battery manufacturers, electronics manufacturers and auto OEMs. The public sector also has a role to play, as do international development agencies, private foundations, NGOs, industry associations, and metal marketplaces. Rather than avoiding association with ASM, companies should be channelling energy into programmes that are actively creating decent working conditions at ASM mine sites and provide constructive engagement on the ground, where a large portion of hazards can be rapidly diminished with the correct equipment, proper training, mine management skills, and the infrastructure for sanitation and clinics
The FCA provides the vehicle to pool funds from multiple organisations able to donate at very different levels, and a management umbrella for our programme comprising several targeted interventions. Improving mining working conditions and protecting children’s rights is a sizable issue that requires an entire industry to leverage its power, and with a united front, a whole region of mining communities can be transformed for the better.