New Study Highlights Child Rights Risks in Informal Cobalt Mining and Opportunities for Businesses to Adapt Responsible Sourcing Approach

Study shows child labour in cobalt mining is still a pressing issue aggravated further by COVID-19, highlights opportunities for companies to improve the situation for affected communities

 

December 8 2021 – A new ‘on-the-ground’ study from Save the Children Germany and The Centre for Child Rights and Business (The Centre) identifies ongoing child rights risks in informal, or artisanal cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of The Congo (DRC), and highlights how international companies can adopt a responsible approach to address root causes of child labour. 

 

Cobalt is a key ingredient in lithium-ion batteries used in a vast range of applications, from consumer electronics and smart devices to electric vehicles – as such cobalt is one of the world’s most sought-after minerals and is an essential mineral for the green transition. Approximately 70% of the world’s cobalt is sourced from the DRC. 

 

Save the Children Germany and The Centre’s study “Opportunities for Businesses to Promote Child Rights in Cobalt Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining” is based on visits to 10 ASM sites in the DRC, input from 207 parent artisanal miners, 209 children from ASM communities and 27 in-depth interviews with local and community stakeholders.

 

The study finds that children in cobalt ASM communities are facing an education crisis that has worsened in recent years and has been further aggravated by the income shocks of a cobalt price slump and unstable supply chains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

With over 200,000 people reliant on ASM to make a living, the study highlights how disengaging in ASM in supply chains is not a responsible sourcing approach; rather, collaborating with co-operatives, local governments, large-scale mining and other key actors along the supply chain to formalise ASM and engage in community development can have a significant impact on reducing child labour in mines and improving the lives of those making a living from the mining.

 

The study examines how recent changes and supply chain practices impact child rights risks and how actions of downstream players, such as battery producers, technology and car companies, can function as either risk multipliers or best practices in relation to child rights. 

 

While the fact that child labour is present in ASM is not a new revelation, data from the study shows how limited access to education is one of the key drivers of child labour in the sector. The study finds that the older the children are, the more likely they are to try to balance work with school, hence a significant uptick in the percentage of secondary-school children working. Of those, 90% work to pay for school. On the other hand, for younger children who are out of school, there are very few incentives or support systems in place to help them transition back into the education system after dropping out. The study also found that children in ASM communities suffer from poor psychological health, and many have long-term health issues due to accidents and exposure to air-borne pollutants from the mines. 

 

The study puts forward several recommendations for downstream brands and buyers to address root causes of child labour and to promote child rights in ASM. These include:

 

  • Engage ASM as part of the supply chain to push for formalisation

  • Set up a functional child labour remediation system as part of formalisation efforts

  • Investment in ASM communities should focus on improving access to education and reduction of school fees

  • Formalisation efforts should push economic partnerships between LSM and ASM to improve productivity and safety

  • LSM investment in ASM communities to improve the living conditions (infrastructure) should not only be considered as a philanthropic contribution but to be expected as part of a due diligence process 

 

Commenting on the results of the study, Ines Kaempfer, CEO of The Centre for Child Rights and Business and one of the key authors of the study said: “Demand for cobalt to fuel the green energy transition is expected to increase four-fold over the next few years. International companies must accept that ASM is a part of their supply chains, whether directly or indirectly, and action needs to be taken to make sure that workers, children and impacted communities are not the ones who lose out. Too many children’s rights and futures are at stake to turn a blind eye. We believe that the industry actors, from producers to buyers, all have both the responsibility and the opportunity to significantly improve the situation for children in ASM communities within the next few years by working with the local community, CSOs and the government. We hope that this study can help ignite the way forward.”

 

Both The Centre for Child Rights and Business (The Centre) and Save the Children Germany are working with stakeholders to develop and implement practical on-the-ground solutions to child rights issues in complex supply chain settings while working with a diverse range of actors. 

 

The Centre in collaboration with Save the Children has become a member of the Fair Cobalt Alliance (FCA) to help establish child labour prevention and remediation systems in artisanal mining (ASM) communities. Read more here

 

Click here to download a copy of the English report and infographic.  

Click here to download a copy of the German report.

 

For general media inquiries, please contact ellen.schliebitz@childrights-business.org

 

For more information about The Centre for Child Rights and Business and Save the Children’s work to support child rights in cobalt supply chains including ASM, please contact:

 


Published on 08/12/2021

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