Today, the Enough Project released a report documenting the links between cobalt mining, corruption, and human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo). The report, “Powering Down Corruption: Tackling Transparency and Human Rights Risks from Congo’s Cobalt Mines to Global Supply Chains,” is based on findings from interviews both inside and outside Congo with over 500 miners, traders, government officials, and representatives from civil society and end-user companies. In conjunction with the report, Enough is also launching a consumer activist campaign.
Congo produced approximately 60 percent of the world’s cobalt in 2017, and with electric vehicle manufacturers and consumer electronics companies scrambling to secure their access to this critical material as demand increases, there is a nearly unprecedented opportunity for companies to engage proactively and continuously in dedicated supply chain due diligence—or for corrupt networks to make millions in a climate of scarce regulation and oversight.
Cobalt is mined on both large-scale and artisanal concessions in Congo, each presenting its own set of challenges. Industrial or large-scale mining (LSM) lacks transparency in several key areas of contracting, subcontracting, and joint venture disclosure practices. Artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) in some cobalt mining areas has links to illegal and corrupt involvement of armed military actors, nontransparent documentation of production and export data, and human rights abuses such as child labor and hazardous working conditions. Connections back to President Joseph Kabila and his regime emerge in both artisanal and industrial mining.
Hundreds of millions of dollars went missing from Congo’s state-owned mining company, Gécamines, between 2011 and 2014, with direct ties from this missing money to deals with international copper and cobalt mining companies. The networks of corruption extend beyond Congo’s borders to foreign commercial facilitators such as key Kabila financier Dan Gertler, whom the U.S. government sanctioned in 2017 for generating illicit wealth, mainly from corrupt and opaque mining deals in Congo. And several industrial cobalt and copper mining companies operating in Congo are currently under investigation in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada for their potential role in corrupt activities.
Companies should actively incorporate transparency initiatives into their sourcing protocols in order to address the corruption and human rights abuses linked to cobalt production. In particular, companies in the automotive and consumer electronics industries, should:
- Conduct thorough and consistent due diligence and public reporting, with attention to corruption-related risks.
- Collectively, through relevant industry associations, visit cobalt mine sites to ensure compliance and reinforce their prioritization of transparency and anticorruption initiatives.
- Use supply chain leverage to increase contract and subcontract transparency.
- Contribute to benefits-sharing and livelihoods programs and comply with internationally recognized frameworks for obtaining and maintaining consent to operate from host communities.
- Require producers and suppliers to fully report on which minerals are artisanally mined on their concession or in their possession, as the case may be.
If managed transparently and responsibly, cobalt revenues could help alleviate poverty in Congo and be a backbone for development. Especially as Congo implements a new mining code that considerably raises royalties on cobalt, a responsible and transparent trade could, in theory, have nearly unprecedented social and development benefits. To complement these, companies using cobalt to propel forward renewable energy technologies such as electric vehicles and rechargeable batteries could also share the benefits of these technologies with Congo’s mining communities.
Click here to read the report.
Click here to read the activist brief.
Click here to take action.