Project by BMW, BASF, Samsung SDI and Samsung Electronics to enhance sustainable cobalt mining
As part of a cross-industry initiative, the companies BMW Group, BASF SE, Samsung SDI and Samsung Electronics have launched a joint cobalt pilot project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A contract to this effect between the companies, together with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, will aim to improve artisanal mining working conditions, as well as living conditions for surrounding communities. The scope of the project will span over one pilot mine within the next three years, and the partners will not operate the mine. In September 2019, the partners kicked off their cross-industrial initiative with the pilot project “Cobalt for Development”.
This fully privately financed project seeks to pilot an approach to address challenges in artisanal mining. As it is limited to one pilot mine site and the surrounding community, it seeks to contribute to identifying workable solutions that lead to better working conditions at the mine site. If proven effective, these measures could then be scaled up to other legal artisanal mine sites and enhance systemic challenges in the longer run.
During the upcoming months, the pilot project will focus on analyzing occupational and environmental risks to develop and implement responsible mining practices. Local partners such as the artisanal mining cooperative will participate from the beginning in developing and implementing these measures to strengthen local ownership and sustainability of the approach. In the nearby community, the focus will be to improve access to education, as well as financial literacy and alternative incomes for its residents.
The progress of “Cobalt for Development” is regularly evaluated internally and by a committee of local representatives to continuously improve the project approach. These lessons learnt could then form the basis if project measures are extended to other mine sites.
Cobalt is a key component in the production of batteries for the automotive and electronics industries. The world’s largest known reserves of this raw material are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Industrial mining accounts for approximately 80-85% of Congolese cobalt production, with artisanal mining operations producing the remaining 15-20%. Currently, companies are facing challenges in the areas of environment, health and safety, and human rights when cobalt is extracted through artisanal mining.
This is the first time partners from automotive, chemical and consumer electronics industries have come together in a project on the ground to address the challenges of artisanal cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This pilot project builds on a feasibility study jointly conducted by GIZ and BMW Group. Insights gained from visits to several artisanal mines, stakeholder interviews and surveys of miners and community members were instrumental in shaping this project approach.
This project also contributes to the goals of global initiatives, such as the Global Battery Alliance (GBA), to foster sustainable supply chains.