Glencore warns on child labour in Congo’s cobalt mining

Over 60% of the world’s cobalt comes from the DRC, where an estimated 15% of it is mined by hand

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Glencore, the largest producer of cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has warned that a new focus on sourcing cobalt from small-scale miners in the resource-rich country increases the risks of child labour.

The miner and trader said it had noticed “an increasing interest in responsible cobalt supply” from so-called artisanal miners, who mine the metal by hand. But such mining often involves women and children, Glencore said.

“As a major producer and marketer of cobalt, we support efforts to establish greater transparency in the value chain, and address the endemic poverty in this region that is the underlying cause of artisanal mining,” Glencore said Monday. “We do not support ASM [artisanal mining], nor process or purchase any material derived from ASM in the DRC.”

Over 60 per cent of the world’s cobalt comes from the DRC, where an estimated 15 per cent of it is mined by hand. Amnesty International has said children as young as seven dig for the metal in the country, inhaling toxic dust.

That has created difficulties for the world’s largest electronics companies, who are scrambling to source supplies of cobalt, an essential ingredient for lithium-ion batteries - used in iPhones and electric cars.

As the price of cobalt has more than doubled, supply from small-scale mines rose by 18 per cent last year, according to Darton Commodities.

Glencore said it had noted “an increased number of children engaging in artisanal activities during school holidays.”

It said it had supported holiday camps for school children and agricultural initiatives in the communities where it mines “to deter participation of children and women in artisanal mining.”

“Local dependency on artisanal mining is reducing through creating and sustaining sustainable alternative livelihoods,” it said. “In addition, increased household revenue is available for the payment of school fees.”

The Switzerland-based company said it had a “robust due diligence process” to ensure cobalt from small-scale mining does not enter its supply chain.

Glencore’s position is at odds with its rival Trafigura, which said this month it is working with Congo-based producer Shalina to source cobalt from artisanal miners by helping them to form co-operatives.

This month, two car companies also backed a pilot scheme to trace the world’s first “ethical cobalt” from the DRC, tagging the metal from five artisanal and semi-mechanised mines. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018

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