BMW, BASF, Samsung SDI and Samsung Electronics have launched a cooperative pilot project to support sustainable and fair cobalt mining initiatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The German development agency GIZ will coordinate the project.
A spokesperson for the initiative has been quoted as saying that if we are ever to purchase cobalt from the DCRC, it would only be possible “under different conditions than we find today”. For this reason, BMW, BASF and the Samsung subsidiaries have tasked the GIZ with setting up a pilot mining project, which will explore how to improve living and working conditions for the local small-scale mining operations over a three year period.
The most important challenge is ensuring compliance with human rights, as well as environmental, health and safety standards, according to a BMW statement. The mining in Congo is currently 80% to 85% owned by foreign entities, who are mining the cobalt. Around these mines, however, local miners and their families, as well as small cooperatives, live under often life-threatening conditions in the smaller mines. Reports also indicate that children are used for mining.
The pilot project is based on a feasibility study by the GIZ and BMW. Should it be successful, the concept could be applied to other mines, according to the organisers. BMW also emphasised that the companies behind the initiative would not be running the mine in the project.
Cobalt plays a key role in the production of batteries for electrified vehicles. The resource is also a rare element, with only about 0,004% of the earth’s crust holding the mineral. Additionally, about two thirds of the global supply are located in Congolese territory, where it is mined under precarious conditions for both the people and the environment. The key words in this context are human rights abuse and child labour.
So far, ethical vehicle manufacturers have been trying to fulfil their cobalt needs from northern Africa, South America and Australia. The global industry growth in the electric mobility business has strained the capacities in these locations, however, forcing manufacturers and suppliers to begin looking elsewhere.
BMW announced last year that they were looking at improving transparency in the supply chain, as well as evaluating options for pilot projects in the DRC – with a particular eye on cobalt sourcing. For some time, BMW has also been engaged in the Responsible Cobalt Initiative (RCI) alongside a number of other companies and organisations, as well as the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). The goal of the initiative is improve transparency and governance, as well as the implementation of collective measures to combat social and environmental hazards in the cobalt supply chain.
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