Cobalt Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) of Cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo has been the focus of many articles and news reports covering working conditions and child labour.

The exponential growth in demand for cobalt – driven by its essentiality in the most common types of lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles and store energy from solar, wind and other renewable sources – has put into the spotlight the way this critical mineral is sourced.

The Cobalt Institute has a longstanding commitment to the sustainable and responsible production and use of cobalt in all forms.  This page aims to explain where Cobalt is mined in the DRC, the issues related to Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) and the steps the industry is taking to address these issues.

%

of cobalt production is mined as a by product

Cobalt is mined across the world and the vast majority is produced as a by-product from large scale copper and nickel mines.

Where is cobalt mined in the DRC?

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the world’s leading source of mined cobalt, supplying approximately 70% of Global cobalt mine production (Source: United States Geological Survey).

The mines that extract cobalt are in the Lualaba Province in Southern Congo. This region is known as the copper belt and cobalt is mined as a by-product of copper mining.

The majority (around 65-85%) of all cobalt mined in the DRC comes from large scale copper mines that are mostly operated by large multinational mining companies. The operations in these mines are strictly controlled by the operators and local governments.

The remaining 15-35% comes from artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM). ASM can include men and women working on an individual basis as well as those working in family groups, in partnership, in teams or as members of cooperatives or other types of legal associations and enterprises.

How is cobalt mined in the DRC?

Issues related to Artisanal and Small Scale Mining

Systemic child labour

Corruption

Hazardous working conditions

Unfair trading practices exploiting local workers selling to traders on the open market

Why not ban imports from Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining?

Curtailing mining activities in the DRC would severely harm the local population. Mineral extraction accounts for 90% of the country’s exports and constitutes a core element of the Congolese economy. An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people work in ASM and any others depend on their income. Cobalt extraction through ASM presents an important development opportunity for the DRC, on the condition that responsible practices can be established

"Artisanal mining is a lifeline for millions of impoverished people in the DRC. We need to see companies working with the authorities to formalize it – make it safer, remove children, provide miners with a fair price."

Mark Dummett, Head of Business, Security and Human Rights at Amnesty International, quoted in The Financial Times, 28 May 2020

Our Responsibility

The Cobalt Institute is engaged with several ongoing initiatives with the principal aim of putting artisanal mining in the DRC on a legitimate and transparent footing, as well as seeking to address the root causes of poverty.

ASM Formalisation

Formalisation of an informal industry is generally defined as the development of standards in line with basic human rights principles and environmental standards. In the case of ASM, these standards include basic infrastructure, health and safety measures, and monitoring to assess compliance with these standards. The formalisation of ASM practices is an essential step to address the issues related to the artisanal mining sites. The jobs and income created on formalised ASM sites can also help reduce extreme poverty, which is a root cause of child labour.

The formalisation of ASM practices is an essential step to address the issues related to the artisanal mining sites. The jobs and income created on formalised ASM sites can also help reduce extreme poverty, which is a root cause of child labour. 

In 2019, the Democratic Republic of the Congo Government established the Entreprise Générale du Cobalt SA (EGC), a subsidiary of GECAMINES, to exercise a monopoly in the country on the sourcing of cobalt from artisanal mining operations, whereby processing prior to export is required before it can be traded.

COBALT INDUSTRY RISK ASSESSMENT FRAMEWORK (CIRAF)

The Cobalt Industry Responsible Assessment Framework (CIRAF) is a management tool designed for all companies, whether or not they are producing and/or sourcing from high-risk countries. CIRAF consolidates due diligence actions being taken by companies across the cobalt industry to demonstrate best practice and meet the expectations of civil society, the media and the cobalt market. As such, CIRAF provides a unified yet flexible approach towards responsible and sustainable cobalt production and sourcing.