Responsible Mining of Cobalt

The need for responsible mining practices is not new and has for many years been at the top of the agenda for many large-scale mining companies (LSM), and since the late 1990’s this has been approached collectively by the LSM in order to help improve public awareness, address concern for the environment and introduce the broader concept of sustainability.

One of the major objectives of the CI is to promote the responsible production and use of cobalt in all forms and its members abide by the 7-guiding principles of the Institute, although CI membership does not represent the entire cobalt industry it does represent over 70% of mined production globally. The CI members sign up to a code of conduct which exemplifies the very best standards in protecting human health, the environment and upholding human rights. These are usually already incorporated into the individual company’s code of conduct and as such, the CI sets the standard for the entire industry to follow. Downstream companies purchasing cobalt products from a CI member company have the assurance that these products are produced with the highest ethical standards. Company policies and codes of conduct stress a zero tolerance policy for child, forced or compulsory labour. The CI is currently developing the Cobalt Industry Responsible Assessment Framework which seeks to:

Basic points of the Cobalt Industry Risk Assessment Framework

CI Members are very concerned about what has been reported on illegal artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and there is a risk of unjustified stigmatisation of all cobalt producers, including those in the CI and International Council for Mining and Metals (ICMM), who for many years have followed strict corporate policies against the use of child labour and in the respecting of human rights. Not only could this stigmatise the use of cobalt generally, to the detriment of the wider industry as a whole, but also those operations where the cobalt is mined and processed legitimately in full compliance with local regulations for health and safety and the protection of the environment. It is also important to avoid the effects of unnecessary stigmatisation of the responsible bona-fide LSM industry that offers income, safe working conditions and protection of human rights, who may eventually decide to re-consider operating in that country.

Poverty, a lack of proper employment opportunity, the cost of education, and other capacity gaps are the main issues and should be addressed through partnerships and multi-stakeholder initiatives to help eradicate the use of child labour in places such as the DRC. Ultimately, this is the responsibility of the DRC government so it is imperative that companies are encouraged to invest sustainably in the country in order to contribute to the economy and well-being of its people (please use this link to access a report from the ICMM in this context). Any solution to this problem must include foreign governmental and international support and assistance to the DRC government in a manner that avoids unintended consequences. At the same time, international pressure must also be applied on those non-compliant companies purchasing illegally mined cobalt, to address their own practices.

The mining industry provides the resources necessary for creating and developing modern materials and enabling technological progress and it has, as a responsible industry, also provided substantial benefits, particularly in developing countries, such as:

To achieve this, the LSM industry already operates within a spectrum of mandatory and voluntary initiatives that ensure they have responsible and sustainable working practices.Some of the main guidelines for responsible operating practices are, for example, enshrined in the:

“The importance of responsible resourcing is growing as organisations increasingly take evaluation of environmental and social performance beyond their own operations and integrate it into supply chain purchasing decisions” (ICMM[i])

This is vitally important to ensure the sustainable credentials of the industry.

As highlighted, there already exists a broad range of supply chain reporting procedures covering global and numerous national jurisdictions and the CI fully supports transparency at this level. It is important for producers to have an intimate understanding of their supply chain provenance, going beyond mere face value. So it is questionable whether the addition of mandated audits of the chain of material custody in addition to current guidelines would have any added value, particularly where the stream of raw material is from a company’s own mine. For third-party material, a bi-lateral approach on sustainable sourcing between supplier and customer would be recommended in order to enhance the relationships within the supply chain and thus improve transparency.This enables companies to carefully select their suppliers and eliminate those that do not provide the necessary sourcing assurances. In these circumstances self-certification or voluntary reporting systems are the preferred method as they bring the required discipline and flexibility to address issues of compliance. The CI believes it is far better to consolidate and rationalise existing guidelines and initiatives, which are all well considered than imposing mandated requirements across such a broad-based industry operating at differing levels across the world.

[i] Reference ICMM, Demonstrating Value, A Guide to Responsible Sourcing.