Stopping Human Rights Abuses in Cobalt Mining

by Source Intelligence

on December 27, 2016


Weeks after an investigative news article detailed the extent of child labor and forced labor being used to mine cobalt – a critical ingredient in widely used batteries for cars and electronic equipment – major technology companies and industry groups are launching initiatives to stop the practice.

Human Rights Abuse in Cobalt Production


Current statistics show that more than half of the world’s cobalt is mined from the Congo.  Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have highlighted concerns that many of these African mines use child labor and forced labor conditions. The Washington Post’s investigative article on artisanal cobalt mining provided one of the most in-depth stories of the life-threatening conditions that miners face to earn two to three dollars a day.

Cobalt is a key metal used in lithium-ion batteries, which power cell phones, electric vehicles, laptop computers and a range of other electronic equipment. Companies have become increasingly aware of the human rights controversies associated with cobalt production and are realizing the need to investigate the source of cobalt in their supply chains.

As a result, leading automotive and electronics companies have announced various efforts to trace the source of cobalt in recent weeks:

  • Apple, HP, Samsung SDI and Sony have joined the Responsible Cobalt Initiative.
  • The Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), whose members include Apple, Dell, Lenovo, Samsung, Foxconn, Honda and Ford Motors, have recently revealed the “Responsible Raw Materials Initiative.”

The Responsible Cobalt Initiative, created by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Metals, Minerals and Chemicals Importers and Exporters, is aimed at promoting cooperation with the government of the Congo. Its members have pledged to follow Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines for mining in supply chains, which calls for companies to track how cobalt is being extracted, transported, manufactured and sold. Any abuses uncovered in the process would require immediate correction.

This latest initiative from China comes after the country announced a 2014 memorandum of understanding with the OECD, China’s first major effort to promote responsible sourcing.  

The EICC’s “Responsible Raw Materials Initiative” aims to expand scrutiny of its members’ supply chains beyond conflict minerals— tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold (3TG). A working group will first identify and prioritize the social and environmental impacts of raw material extraction and processing, then work on driving initiatives that make “meaningful improvements in the mining sector.”  The list of companies pledging to support this initiative is expected to grow.

The working group will be co-sponsored by EICC and the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI). Source Intelligence recently became the first vendor member of the CFSI and is contributing its expertise and ethical sourcing knowledge to the organization.  Source Intelligence maintains the largest data base of conflict-free smelters and smelter aliases – both considered a key gateway and validation point for responsibly mined minerals.


Tracing Cobalt and Conflict Minerals


Significant effort is needed to trace cobalt and conflict minerals to determine whether human rights abuses are present in any supply chain. Source Intelligence recently announced a partnership with SGS to further strengthen its ability to validate and collect data within international supply chains. SGS is the world’s leading provider of product testing, inspection, verification and certification services. To learn more about Source Intelligence’s end-to-end compliance solutions, the world’s largest supplier database and an easy-to-use reporting platform for all of your compliance needs, click here.

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